Ontario’s Highlands Nordic Resort is realizing the (snow)shoe might be on the other foot

This winter, the shoe could be on the other foot at Southern Ontario’s Highlands Nordic resort. The snowshoe, that is.

The facility, located just south of the heart of Southern Ontario’s Blue Mountains and its famous downhill skiing, is perched on the stony brow of the Niagara Escarpment. Best known for its critically-acclaimed cross-country skiing, Highlands Nordic has discovered the unique – and fast-growing – appeal of the snowshoe circuit over the last few years.

“It’s one of the fastest-growing winter sports,” said spokesperson Kelly Sinclair. “It’s growing huge and it’s really obvious to us that it’s what people are interested in.”

The property features access to 300 acres of trail networks. About 25 kilometres of ski trails are on tap, while the snowshoeing is more limited for the moment at six kilometres, but that’s set to grow this winter with the addition of new mountain biking trails being converted to winter use this season.
“They’re pretty new,” she said. “We had a lot of people interested in snowshoeing. They were generally people who didn’t want to go skiing, and there was a lot of interest. It kind of just grew from there.”

“We also do a lot of school groups, and that was something they were interested in. It’s also less expensive (than cross-country skiing).”

Sinclair said the resort offers three loops at the moment, all of which can be linked together on any given walk to increase your enjoyment and offer a challenge. The trails form basically a giant figure eight.

The initial loop is of introductory terrain, meaning it’s mostly flat. The third loop is more challenging, and offers some spectacular views from the escarpment over the southeast corner of Georgian Bay. From the right angle, the curve of the shoreline is plainly obvious.

“You can kind of stack them one on top of the other,” Sinclair said. “I really love the long loop. It runs through pine trees and is really picturesque. And remember a 4-k snowshoe isn’t always easy.”
The trails aren’t groomed per se, but see enough use to be generally well-packed, she added.
Somewhat unexpectedly, Sinclair said its easy for snowshoers and cross-country skiers to get along with each other, so long as each is respectful of the others trails and don’t cross over unnecessarily.

The majority of the guests continue to be skiers, Sinclair said, but a season’s pass encompasses both sports. Word is slowly trickling out about the snowshoe trails, and traffic continues to increase slowly.

“They’re definitely not as well-known as our ski trails, but we are trying to get the word out.”
Snowshoers can also link up to the venerable Bruce Trail not far from Highlands Nordic, which is less than a mile away from the highest point on the walking path.

Let’s hasten to add that of course these aren’t the traditional snowshoes with wooden frames and rawhide webbing that provided too many people’s introduction to the torture – make that experience – of snowshoeing. Traditionalists, of course, have, shall we say, a different opinion on the matter.
These are the lightweight, hi-tech snowshoes for the modern world, she said.

“And snowshoeing is great for togetherness and family time,” Sinclair said. “You can talk and stay together, so it’s great for people and families. It’s something great to try out and it gets you moving in the winter instead of getting into that lull of not wanting to go outside.”

The new technology is partly what is attracting people back to snowshoeing. In many cases it’s after uncomfortable or painful experiences with traditional wooden snowshoes as children. Too often people were left suffering bouts of “mal de raquette.” Otherwise known as snowshoers’ cramp, the condition can be horribly uncomfortable as hip muscles heave and quadriceps quiver under the unaccustomed strain.

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Timothy Giilck

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