Gravenhurst Nordic

How Not to Camp in the Winter

Another tale from the trails for a cozy fireplace read:

I asked my brother Allan to write me an account of his misfortunate winter adventures. I remember his tale of all the things that went wrong on this unforgettable weekend class trip. Ill informed and unprepared they ventured into the frosty wilderness of the Ontario, Algonquin Highlands. 




Tales from the Trails –

How Not to Camp in the Winter


So, this tale occurs early in the 1980s (1982, I believe) on a wintery Thursday in February. It was scheduled that our group of four were to go to a winter retreat destination, with 12 others, to experience some outdoor activities. 

It was a pre-organized event for my university fitness course and all we understood was to bring some winter clothing and personal items (according to a winter checklist) and the other supplies would be furnished on site. No real itinerary was given prior to arrival, but we were reassured that we would not be abandoned in the woods during the weekend.

One of us had a car and agreed to pick up the three others living around the Toronto area before heading out of town just before 11 am. In an excited, jovial mood, we arrived at the outdoor centre near Whitney (Algonquin Park area) around 2 pm-ish. Of course this was pre-internet / cell phone era and we had not really looked at the long-range weather forecast. We were young, in our early twenties, and sadly we made assumptions about this organized trip.

At the main lodge we were given our equipment for the four-night stay. Our guide explained to us that we would be rotating around the premises from one style of accommodation to the next.

We were each given cross-country skis (not properly waxed, nor measured to our height); a 40-lb backpack filled with supplies; a down sleeping bag (matted and clumped from many years of use, and, as I would come to realize in the next three nights, virtually useless in the winter); a map of our route to follow over the next three days; and a tent for the first night’s accommodations.

winter fire

The first destination—a hillside location, tight to some trees⁠—was not too far away, only three kilometres, but the terrain was challenging. Up and down hills at dusk on icy track conditions with ill-fitted, un-waxed skis. At one point, I fell forward on a descent and the tip of my ski cut my cheek just under my eye. Not a great way to start.

Our foursome had departed late, 3:30 pm, and we knew it was going to be a challenge to get set up before dark; a brisk wind and snow squall didn’t help. 

Of course, tents in that decade were one-season tents that were always a mystery to set up. We had literally thirty minutes to get this thing together, but, of course, there were no instructions. We asked ourselves, “How difficult can it be?” Well, we struggled royally. With darkness upon us and two flashlights to assist, we only managed to get it half assembled. Were we missing poles? Pegs? Other pieces? 

In the end, we tied off one part of the tent to a neighbouring tree so that it could stand erect. Quickly, we put our sleeping bags down and laid our backpacks to one side of the tent. It was too windy to get a fire going, so we feasted on granola mix for supper and decided on an early night. I slept with all my clothes and a jacket on. It was a cold night, but I figured tomorrow we would plan out our day more judiciously.

winter hiking

The next day, one of the few attendants that slept in a nearby cabin came by early in the morning and escorted us to an eating area where we had a good solid brunch. Revived, we learned that our next evening would be in a quinzee, a snow cave, that we had to dig out ourselves. 

We decided to dig out our digs and set up our sleeping arrangements before going on an afternoon 30-kilometre ski. It was a sunny day and quite beautiful. What could go wrong? Well of course, the skiing was manageable and fun, but we were sweaty and dehydrated by the end. It was challenging to find water and stay warm when we returned to camp. 

As night descended upon us, we had a campfire to give us a little reprieve from the elements while we ate our supper. Thankfully, as the winds increased, we could retire to the shelter of our snow cave. We ended up huddling close together to minimize heat loss throughout the night. It was freezing cold again, but bearable, since the quinzee blocked the wind.

When we awoke, much to our surprise, the roof of our cave had dropped to just about a foot from our heads. Our heavy, heated breathing throughout the night was the cause.

Fortunately, the ceiling didn’t collapse on us as we slept!

After breakfast, we did some snowshoeing, had lunch and continued on skis to our next accommodation. Tonight’s abode was going to be a bit of luxury…a wooden cabin with a stove!

We carried on with our backpacks and followed our map. The trail wasn’t too intense, 20 kilometres, and we enjoyed our afternoon, giddy with the knowledge of a cabin in our future.

Well, after supper we entered our cabin and noticed eight bunk beds and a central wood stove. When we closed the door, we quickly realized that the wind was easily penetrating the century-old rustic cabin.

Because I couldn’t tolerate another freezing night of disrupted sleep, I took it upon myself to fill the indoor wood box to the brim with logs from the outside wood pile. I had that stove almost glowing red by 9 pm and finally felt warm and comfortable as I headed to my bunk.

We settled in our bunks in our awful sleeping bags, blissfully unaware that the temperature that night would drop to -40 C. I awoke at 2 am, freezing and miserable, and noticed that the fire was almost out. For the next five hours, I stood, along with two others, by the wood stove, feeding the hungry beast, hoping it would penetrate the arctic temperature to warm us. 

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that the heat radius from the wood stove that evening was barely a metre. We could not fully warm ourselves until the sun shone through the windows at 8 am. What should have been a relaxing evening on a bunk bed mattress had sadly devolved into another very challenging, sleepless night.

Discouraged and defeated, we complained to our leaders that we had sustained a few terrible evenings. Obviously, we were excited to learn that this last night would be at an insulated cabin with a larger stove. Eureka! Off to Nirvana we went!

As we looked at our map, we saw several paths to our final destination. With more than enough time, we decided to take the longest route to enjoy a good workout on a scenic trail. This was our mistake. What we didn’t know was that one of the leaders had left an hour earlier to meet us at the halfway point on the most direct trail, which wasn’t the route we took. So our paths never crossed. 

Communication, all weekend, was not easy out in the wilderness, which had a  negative effect on all participating groups.

winter cabin

Eventually we arrived at the insulated cabin! Ah…perfect! Our B & B awaited us. One… slight…problem.

The door was locked! Who would lock a cabin in the middle of nowhere in the winter? 

Now, what to do? The sun was starting to set, we were heavily dehydrated, and our sweat was turning into a cold chill. We came up with some insane ideas. Being in a state of distress, we attempted to break in. 

We soon abandoned efforts because we didn’t want to damage the property. Just before dusk, thankfully, the leader appeared at the cabin. Let’s just say he was not happy that our meeting up on the trail earlier in the day didn’t happen as he had planned. 

In the end, we entered that lovely warm domain and spent a glorious evening replenishing our fluids in an insulated, cosy (26 degrees!) cabin.

Our experience with surviving the frigid temperatures gave us a deeper appreciation of what early settlers had to contend with out on the wild Canadian frontier.

Going forward, forty years later, there have been great improvements in camping equipment, outdoor clothing and communication. Our trusty Scouts and Guides have taught us, you have to be prepared, which we were not! I guess that was our life lesson learned.

In hindsight, if we had had a four-season tent; wool layers; warm, functioning, reliable sleeping bags; and numerous water containers, we would have been comfortable every day of our winter camping experience.

What we took away from this experience is really common sense: be safe; respect the elements; do not make any assumptions about your equipment, food, weather and shelter; know what you’re getting yourself into; make sure there is a quick out if needed; and most of all, enjoy the moments out in the wilderness!


By Allan Roitner

An Invitation to Submit Your Own Tales


If you have experienced any interesting tales from the trails, I encourage you to submit your own stories. You don’t have to be a great, established author. Just send me your proposed outline or write a short little entertaining tale about your Nordic ski or snowshoe adventures here in Ontario or elsewhere. 

If you took photos to support your text, all the better, email me those, too. I am sure we all have a few campfire stories we could share on OST. 

Send me a message from my contact page


Dan Roitner

Here is another Tail from the Trails – My Cell Phone is Lost in the Snow   or read
On One Ski to the Hot Tub

March 17, 2023No comments
On One Ski to the Hot Tub

With the lack of snow lately in Southern Ontario, I thought I’d maybe entertain you with one of my own old ski trail stories. 

Sit back with your favourite beverage and read on as I elaborate on the heroic tale of a ski adventure I did with a few ski buds decades ago.


Tales from the Trails


I was up for the weekend with my Nordic ski group near Haliburton, Ont.  We stayed at the Wigamog Inn to enjoy the trails, some fine dining, and good times together. We were all cyclists who liked skiing in the off season from the Toronto Bicycling Network TBN.

It was a beautiful, blue-sky, sunny kind of day, yet a cold one, I’m thinking at least -12C. A group of us were young and adventurous and planning a long cross-country ski trek for the day. We had heard about a connecting trail to Glebe Park and decided to investigate. 

We had learned that behind the trails at the Inn, one could cut across the Pinestone Inn golf course trails and continue on, to the other side of Highway 21. There sure enough, when we got across the highway, we found a little-known and unused ski track that we figured would eventually connect to the Glebe Park trail network five or so km away.  As a little bit of bushwhacking wasn’t a problem for us younger lads, onward we went. There were about five of us.

When we got to the back end of the Glebe trails we did a few loops. Eventually, the other lads started heading back to the inn and I was left on my own to make my way back.  I cannot recall why, but it’s a safe bet I wanted to do a different loop and planned to catch up with them a little later.

Wigamog Inn
Better days for the Wigamog Inn

Glebe hilly trails
Glebe hilly trails

At some point, one of my ski bindings broke. This is not a common occurrence, and needless to say not a good thing to happen to anyone. The trails here are very hilly, and I think I had done a silly move, fallen, brushed off the powder, and was surprised to find my ski detached.

I assessed my situation. There was no way to repair the binding, and it was going to take a long time and a lot of effort to walk out. As well, I had been skiing pretty hard all day and had worked up a sweat. I would catch a chill soon if I didn’t keep moving. 

It was late in the afternoon and still sunny, but it would be dark and colder in a few hours. I had seen no one on the trails for quite some time. What to do?  

Well, making my way back to the Inn was just too far on foot. I decided to head the opposite way to the Haliburton Highlands Museum at the Glebe trailhead, find a pay phone or staff working at the museum, and call the Inn to have them pick me up.

Now, these were the primitive days, back in the year 1998 BC (before cell phones.) So it was pretty normal to be a self-sufficient skier with no means of contact. No helicopter was going to pluck me out of this rather dire situation. 

I was at the far end of the loop and still had to do what felt like 10 km to get to the museum.  So what else could I do but ski there on one foot.

I was going to have to master a new Nordic technique: one-legged skiing! 

Glebe ski trails
There are no photos of me on one ski

I grabbed my broken ski. How was I to carry it back?  I held it together loosely in my mit with my ski pole on the side I was skiing on as extra stability. What else could do? I would use my other pole and now skiless boot to push me along and headed off to see how this might work out.

Glebe is considered one of the more advanced ski areas in Ontario and is normally lots of fun and a good workout. I usually appreciate lots of big hills and fast descents. Not today. 

The ski strategy I developed was to glide down on one ski as much as gravity would grant me. This would cover more ground than walking. To even things out, I switched the ski with the good binding from one foot to the other as I went.

It was a bit of a balancing act and of course, there was no kick involved to propel me, just a lot of pole/foot action (while holding on to my other ski). 

But there was a limit to how fast going down a hill I could manage. Risking another fall that might make my situation worse would be foolish. From the top of a hill, if it looked like I might get too much speed, I had to unfortunately walk down the whole thing. I had no brakes!  Going up, was all foot power. There was no way to go up those hills on one ski. 

As you can imagine, my progress was slow, but I was managing, and there was no sense of panic. I had skied here before, I was experienced, and I was determined not to have the wolves find me for dinner.

What kept me going was the reward awaiting me.

The Inn had a large, hot tub in the basement. My end goal!  I just had to keep going. I was driven and focused, imagining myself floating in the hot bubbles to recover from just a little bit too much adventure that day.

By the time I got to the museum, the lights had come on and twilight was in the air. I had made it!  It was a relief to be warm inside the heritage museum. A call was made to the Wigamog and within half an hour I was lying in that well-deserved hot tub.

When I returned years later with a girlfriend, the Inn, regrettably, was falling into disrepair, and now it is no more. The connector trail has since disappeared. But you can still ski Glebe Park. If you do, I recommend you do it on two skis.


enjoy the bubbles
Enjoying the bubbles

An Invitation to Submit Your Own Tales


If you have experienced any interesting tales from the trails, I encourage you to submit your own stories. You don’t have to be a great, established author. Just send me your proposed outline or write a short little entertaining tale about your Nordic ski or snowshoe adventures here in Ontario or elsewhere. 

If you took photos to support your text, all the better, email me those, too. I am sure we all have a few campfire stories we could share on OST. 

My brother tells a great story about, miscommunicating with a ski guide and trekking in a blizzard near Algonquin, with no key to get into the cabin at the end of the day. I asked him to write about it …how about you?

Send me a message from my contact page


Dan Roitner

Here is another Tail from the Trails – My Cell Phone is Lost in the Snow

February 18, 2023No comments
OST Newsletter Dec. 2022

Here is an excerpt of my newsletter, you can subscribe to them here.


First I want to wish you all the best for
this festive season
and 2023!

Let’s all step back and relax a bit from the madness of everyday life. Don our warm winter wear and hit the trails for some solitude in the pines, fresh crisp air, and good cheerful company with our fellow Nordic skiers and snowshoers.

Let us be thankful for all the good things we have here in Canada. We can be glad that the Covid bug, though here to stay, has been tamed and we can enjoy our winter outings once again.

Not to say let’s be careless and catch or share this around but I think attitudes have changed for the better. More people are less likely to go out if they are not feeling well. And if you must, wear a mask as a courtesy to others, like I see they do in Asia.

Remember closed chalets and warming huts, no food or repair services, using temporary cold outhouses (if there even was one) and having to change in your car? All that added hassle but not at a reduced price! (more on that issue below)

Those inconveniences are gone. Despite this, it did increase the popularity of our sports, which was welcomed.

Many locations are keeping paperless booking systems that were set up during Covid for online payments. This can secure a day for you and even a time slot to be there, days in advance. Just don’t make it too far ahead as the weather can be a spoiler.

mtn snowshoeing

Weather Predictions

Good weather and snow conditions are important for our outings. For the third year in a row, La Niña will be a major influence on Canada’s weather systems.

I took a skeptical look at our weather horoscope for this winter. It’s sounding like crystal ball gazing as no one really knows. From weather networks to the Farmers Almanac one can get a broad range of forecasts.

Supposedly it will be colder than normal here in Ontario, with more snow too, but also more rain, Ok make up your mind. A season of changeable weather they say…… Umm, that kind of covers all the bases. Lol..not helpful but entertaining.

Mountain Equipment Company

Save up to 25% on MEC Ski Wear!

Up to 30% off Gloves and Mittens!

AliExpress Winter Clearance Sale
running from January 9th through January 13th with products at up 70% off with Free and Fast Shipping plus $3 off of every $30 spent!

Scary Weather Alerts

– I was having a conversation in the kitchen this week at our big family feast about weather sensationalism. We agreed that over the years weather has turned from what we expect as normal forecasting into drama the networks hype to promote as entertainment or exaggerate as a real concern. They turned our daily weather forecasts from typically boring news into something that would get our attention and ad dollars. (eg. – freak weather as clickbait on the Weather Network)

What was once a snowstorm we would weather through and shovel out, now is broadcast as “ the storm of the century” “a snow armageddon” or some terrifying anomaly. Now kids stay home from school, and highways/businesses close at a hint of anything that might be. OMG!

As the Brits like to say “Keep Calm and Ski On”. Sure there can be bad weather that you should avoid, delay your plans and make you stay home.

But don’t get conditioned by the media into thinking that you can’t handle Canadian winters anymore. We all can remember lots of blizzards and storms that we “survived” without much fuss. (And I know I am writing to the wrong audience anyway, as most of you are hardy skiers and snowshoers who have trekked through some pretty crazy weather in your day.)

young man cross-country skiing
ski pass

Trail Pass Value $$?

As I update info on the OST site every winter, I have seen prices continue to climb. I always saw Nordic skiing and snowshoeing as a lower cost way to get out and be active than the more popular and expensive cousin, downhill skiing. It does not feel so much that way these days.

The old timers are telling me it’s getting overpriced, questioning where is the value? Why the large increase for essentially a very simple activity in the woods?

Top resorts are charging more; $42 at Hardwood, $40 at Horseshoe, $35 at Nordic Highlands, and $31 at Scenic Caves… A leap in a few years on average from $25 to $40, a 60% increase folks. Not cheap anymore, and when you take the whole family. Ouch!

As Nordic skiers and snowshoers, our needs are basic, a trail that’s groomed. (And sometimes poorly.) There are no snowmaking services or ski lifts, and less equipment and staff are needed to groom and run a Nordic resort compared to downhill locations. Even paper maps are a thing of the past.

Certainly, resorts/clubs enjoyed a few good profitable years recently. Because of Covid limitations, more people got out on the trails, and the numbers doubled.

Also, the rise in popularity of snowshoeing and Fatbikes is added income. And some resorts even make more money in the summer by charging mountain bikers trail fees!

I do support these resorts and I am glad they exist as a choice for some who wish it as a more up-scale destination. And I want them to be profitable, to stay in business… Yet it seems they are making more income from the same property than ever before. (BTW the free listings and extra business I give them on this site comes with little in return to me, not even thanks.)

I do understand there are many costs to running these places (insurance, property maintenance, wage increases, taxes…) but the optics are not looking good.

Even when adding more lunchroom space is that cost not offset by the increase in visitors? And as nice as better/more food choices at the lunch counter, or a fancy pro shop or more rentals are,  you do have to pay extra for these.

Compare this to Ontario Park trails (Arrowhead & Wasaga) and Nordic club trail passes. Most have inched up only a few dollars in the last few years into the mid teens $$ in price and remain sane, good value.

Now with that said, thankfully for our sports, you can do Nordic skiing and snowshoe, almost anywhere at no cost, even in your local park on a good snow day. These sports have their roots in a basic means to get around, a natural, no frills, low tech activity to enjoy the outdoors and stay fit. Let’s not get fooled that money has to be spent to have fun.

So why is it getting so expensive? I wish I knew. Are running costs getting that much higher or are enterprises testing the market to see how much we are willing to pay = more profits, yet fewer people can afford to visit? Are they getting greedy?

(And after the holidays, I am going to make contact and see what resorts say and tell you later.)

Enjoy the trails – Dan Roitner

You can leave a comment at the bottom of this page. 

festive banner
December 30, 20226 Comments
Get Ready to Nordic Ski & Snowshoe

As the winds blow colder and the snow arrives, thoughts of strapping on your cross-country skis, skate skis or snowshoes come to mind. Eventually, the snow base will be enough to wander out and indulge in a favourite pastime.

The gap between each winter season is about eight to nine months here in Ontario. Most sports do not have so long to wait ’til conditions again become favourable. For these snow sports, the season is a mere three to four months in the south (if we are lucky!) and Northern Ontario might get a month more of good conditions. So be ready!

Here is a quick read on what you should be thinking as we all get psyched for our first venture out onto the trails of a frozen winter wonderland. Are you primed and good to go without any foreseeable mishap?

red snowshoes

Gear Checklist:


Boots – Did your boots perform the way you wanted last year? Perhaps they were too tight or too loose? Did the laces forever need tightening? Maybe it’s time to replace them with more a modern bindings system and better ankle support.

Do your boots have seams that are starting to come apart? Before they do, use some contact cement to keep them together. Would thermal foot pad inserts in your boots help keep your feet warmer?

Bindings –  These simple yet crucial devices keep your boot securely in place and pivoting freely, so check yours for cracks and loose screws. Skiing back on one ski is no fun (it’s happened to me).

Nordic Skis – Check for cracks, chips and scarring on the bases. These imperfections can usually be ignored if they’re just cosmetic, but rock scratches on your ski bases do add friction, so if you’re a speed demon, then tend to them or take them to a pro shop to be fixed. Give your skis some love.

You might be using hand-me-downs or used cross-country skis. That’s OK, but if you want to go faster, you may wish for a more custom fit. Perhaps you are considering skate skiing.

Getting Nordic skis that actually match your height, weight and skiing style will improve your push and glide strokes. This gets you farther with less effort and more enjoyment. Isn’t that what we all want.

And keep your old ski as designated “rock skis” for those outings when there is barely enough white stuff to ski on but you just have to go.

waxing nordic skis
Wax on, wax off, wax on…

WAX –  The really important part is applying NEW WAX. Last year’s base wax has surely worn off and a new base of glide wax would be wise on ALL skis. If you ski on “waxless skis,” that includes you. (You don’t need grip wax but you still need glide wax.)

For the rest of us Nordic skiing purists, time again for that annual ritual, messy as it is. But well worth it to go faster and farther than the waxless crowd (subtle jab there).

Scrape off the old gummed-up grip wax. Then start putting it all back on before your first outing.  Do you need to get more wax for your favourite temperature ranges? 

[I am not going to tell you how to wax your skis – look it up. For some that is a science and a degree in physics…surface tension, capillarity behaviour…much could be said, lol]  

Snowshoes – Have your shoes been performing well last year? Do the straps need adjusting and are they still holding together? Are the boots you use in your snowshoes a good fit? Do they pivot properly, stay centred as you stomp through the snow?

Poles – You need poles to ski Nordic trails. It just cannot be done without them. Not so much for snowshoeing on even ground but good to have on steep or icy inclines.

A simple stick device with a grip on one end and a pointy part on the other. Are those ends in fine shape? Or do you need to adjust the grip strap (which loosens in time), or replace a missing metal tip or broken basket?

These long aluminum/fibreglass appendages have to endure a lot of stress, you occasionally falling on them. See any fractures, bending or breaks? It could be time to retire them before they fail.

Buying Gear – The used equipment market has served me well over the years with the odd find at a yard sale or on Kijiji, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. There is not always a lot of gear out there, so finding exactly what you need can be tricky.

Last year things got scarce and I expect the same this season. New equipment inventories are likely to be thin again, so get what you need now. Don’t wait. 

Suggested locations to shop online:

Quality Clothing with Fast Shipping

Patagonia – up to 40% OFF Sale on Winter Apparel

Salomon  – Outdoor Ski Clothes Layers

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) – Nordic Ski Jackets, Gloves, Hats, Socks

Sports Clothing –  Did your winter activewear perform well last year? Time to pull it out of storage and size it up. Are any of your garments wearing thin, unravelling, looking tired, or just not keeping you warm and dry?

Feeling comfortable – warm but not too warm – on the trail is your goal. Having ample movement without the bulk of thick layers gives you the freedom necessary to engage in this sport. I get into that whole topic of the science of ski clothing in this post from last year.



Your vehicle – Whatever gets you to the resort, ski club or woodlot to enjoy the trails needs to be reliable. Winter is not a time to wonder if your car, van or truck is going to give up on you. 

Be sure your vehicle is fit for the road and full of gas.  Check under the hood that fluid levels are topped up, especially the windshield wiper fluid. Nothing makes winter driving riskier than poor vision at night through a salt-encrusted windshield. 

In the last decade, I could finally afford snow tires on rims. If you can too, they definitely give you more traction in the winter.

Coach Bus – When I belonged to a ski club, riding the bus to the trails was a joy. Not having to drive home tired, in the dark and/or during a blizzard was so worth it. 

Check club bus schedules for changes before they surprise you. These days Covid may have caused cancellations. 

And may I add, consider staying overnight at a motel to make the outing less of a gauntlet. You can also trek an extra day before heading home during the daylight hours.



The last thing to mention is buying a box(es) of your favourite snack foods for the trail loops. Look over what arrangements you have with water bottles, day packs and waist pouches for your outings.

If all this still works for you, carry on. If you are running out of water, munchies or whatever, don’t go through another year of grief.

Get organized and update your setup so you can enjoy your time away.

So that’s a good start to getting in gear (pun) for the winter months. May it be an enjoyable, peaceful and invigorating outdoor experience.


Stay warm and safe – Dan Roitner

nordic ski for sale

Suggested locations to shop online:

Quality Clothing with Fast Shipping

Patagonia – up to 40% OFF Sale on Winter Apparel

Salomon  – Outdoor Ski Clothes Layers

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) – Nordic Ski Jackets, Gloves, Hats, Socks

December 27, 2021No comments, , , ,
Stay Warm Doing Winter Sports

How to Dress for Outdoor Winter Activities

I explain ways to be Comfortable outside Nordic Skiing or Snowshoeing

  • Retain Heat, Lose Moisture
  • Dress for the Occasion
  • Wear the Right Material
  • Three Layers
  • Shopping Tips
  • Final Tips


The old adage “dress for the weather” is so true. No matter what Mother Nature throws at us, blizzards, sleet, snow, chilly winds or a deep freeze , you can be active (within reason) and enjoy the outdoors in the winter, in comfort; just Dress for It!

Many parts of Ontario are covered in snow for a third of the year. Either you hide inside your cabin bored, restless or make something of it, and come out to play.

Remember all the times you suffered freezing outside; your poor fingers, toes, ears. How the day ended sooner than you had wished because you had to seek warmth inside.

Let’s improve on that scenario so you can stay out longer in comfort

Retain Heat, Lose the Moisture

Keeping our bodies comfortable in the winter requires retaining the heat we generate. The basic science is to keep the heat in and to transfer the moisture out. How little or how much depends on the barrier between you and nature’s elements.

It is the warm air trapped in the weaves and fluffy fleece material that forms a barrier between your skin and the outside temps. How effective these layers of material are will keep you comfortable longer. 

This encompasses the material, construction and insulating properties of your boots, socks, pants, underwear, fleece, jacket, hat and gloves. Seems like a lot to wear just to have some fun in the winter. 

By buying and using the right apparel you can be active outside without all the bulk. 

The next issue is the barrier to cold nasty winds trying to penetrate your garments, mixing with the warm insulated air and cooling you down sooner.  You want an outer shell that can block most of the wind pressure yet breathe when you sweat. 

Here is where it gets tricky and expensive to make garments that can do everything and do them well. 

I once skied in a jacket shell that was wind and water-resistant. It did a fine job when it rained but failed to let out enough moisture doing a high aerobic exercise as Nordic skiing can be. This jacket was better suited for leisurely hikes.

snowshoe couple

Dress for the Occasion

A mistake beginners make is to wear their street clothes on the trail and overdress. These garments may have kept you warm standing at a bus stop or sitting by a firepit but will soon overheat you when active. 

You should actually start your trek on the trail a little underdressed with the intent to get moving and warm-up. Aim to be in your comfort zone within 15 – 20 minutes. A few hill climbs will do it.

What should not happen is that you have to start peeling off layers. If so, this is telling you, you have overdressed… and now what are you going to do with that extra stuff?

This is why you see many seasoned Nordic skiers wearing thin tight spandex clothing. You might think they are chilled (crazy) but they are moving quickly and working hard, generating plenty of heat. And one of the most complete workouts when you get going, especially Skate skiing.

Personally, I feel more comfortable wearing a looser fleece and shell and baggy pants that are not so skin tight. I stop more often for photos or to wait for others to catch up (like my son). Here is where you can catch a chill if you stand around too long when it’s – 15C.

Wear the Right Material

The second mistake newbies do is wear jeans, sweat pants, cotton T-shirts, cotton socks, puffy parkas and big hats. This may be fashionable but will perform poorly. Best to change into this after your exercise.

One of the problems with these garments as mentioned is they wick moisture inefficiently away from your skin to the outdoors.  This gets your clothing damp and wet. Cotton garments will feel cold, stiff and heavy, a problem in the winter. 

Another problem is they are not sewn to fit as activewear and can rip and split.

Also if you fall into the snow these materials allow snow to cling. If you are not quick to brush it off they will melt and ice into your fabrics.

Better to choose to wear wool and polyester blends. These materials are light, perform well, retain heat and wick moisture. Wool actually still feels warm after it gets wet! A merino wool base layer is fine for low activity but choose polyesters for more vigorous outings.

Three Layers

Dressing in layers is key in regulating your body’s heat and moisture. 

  1. Base layer against your skin

  2. Mid-insulating layer of fleece, thicker the colder it is

  3. Outer windbreaker shell layer

Here is where good activewear can help regulate and keep you in a steady comfort zone for the whole day. This will require a few outings to test and use your combination of outerwear to find the sweet spot to regulate your activity level and heat output.

Most of my advice for skiers applies to Snowshoeing. A few other points to note. Snowshoeing may be for you a slower-paced trek which means you need to dress a little warmer than skiing. But if you are doing a lot of hills and your backpack is full it could be a major workout.

Once you get off the set path and do a little bushwacking in the deeper snow you are at risk of getting a boot load of snow. Either consider boot gaiters that cover the area where the boot end and the pants begin or snow pants that come down around below the boots.

Other entry points for snow; pockets, wrist and neckline areas should be tight to block snow from entering. If you trip and fall over into a metre of the fluffy white stuff you will understand the situation quickly. lol 


Shopping Tips:

Pockets – You can never have enough pockets. Look for deep pockets that zip closed. Velcro is OK but it only takes one time to have a spill and loose stuff in the snow to know that securing valuables in a zipped area will save you much grief. And at some point, you should use a backpack to carry things.

Vents – Look for jackets that have zippered vents under the armpits. Undershirts and fleece tops should have a zipper that comes down halfway from the neckline or opens completely.

Noisy clothes – Picture yourself out in the quiet solitude of a forest winter wonderland. As you move along the only sound is the swooshing sounds of your clothes rubbing. This could get annoying. Look for a softshell material for a jacket and pants.

Low-Stick Materials – If you are still prone to falling over or you fancy heading into deep snow wear materials that snow does not cling to. If caught in a snowstorm you will appreciate this.

Where to Shop – If you try to shop for garments specific to Nordic skiing or tailored to Snowshoeing, there is little out there on the racks. For the Nordic racing crowd, they need the edge but for the rest of us, we can look elsewhere to suit our needs.

Both Cycling and Running are very similar activities with a much large audience. Shop in those departments online or in the aisles of sports stores to find suitable ski and snowshoe activewear. Look in the fall through the winter into the spring, you will find cold weather apparel for cyclists and joggers.


red skier on track

Shopping List:

Hat – small thin hat, not too bulky

Gloves – you need a good grip on the palms to hold onto the poles. Finger gloves work on milder days, while mitts can keep the digits warmer when it gets colder. I also use thin inner gloves as I am always removing a mitt to shoot pictures.

Neck warmer – optional, great on a frosty day, pull it over your mouth and nose to warn your breath, and as a covid mask too.

Undershirt – a tight fight polyester long-sleeved shirt with a soft non-itch inside feel

Underpants –  polyester full-size briefs/panties with tight-fitting long underwear on top. Buy two types, thin leggings and a thicker fleece blend for those frosty days.

Pants – non-stick snow material, either tight or loose fit, some favour in front wind-breaking material which I think is a good idea and the back breathes more.

Fleece Top – buy two kinds, a thin and thick version depending on how cold it is.

Shell Jacket – full length or waist height, windproof with zippered arm vents (if you can find them). Plus a hood that rolls up under the collar is a blessing in a snowstorm.

Socks – use a wool blend 40% or greater,  wear one good pair, not two pairs in a boot which gives too much motion resulting in less ski control and perhaps blisters.

Suggested locations to shop online:

Quality Clothing with Fast Shipping

Patagonia – up to 40% OFF Sale on Winter Apparel

Salomon  – Outdoor Ski Clothes Layers

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) – Nordic Ski Jackets, Gloves, Hats, Socks

two snowshoeing

Final Tips:

  • Change Socks – I change into dry wool socks before putting on my ski boots. If you are out for a backcountry full day trek you might appreciate a change of socks midday.
  • Pack Extra – An undershirt and fleece top to change into for the way home or have a full set of clothes if able.
  • Warm Boots – Keep your ski boots warm in your car’s cabin not the trunk on the way up to the trailhead
  • Eat Well – Have a proper high carb meal in the morning before you go out and bring some type of energy bar foods for the trails to top up your gas tank.
  • External Heat – Glove warming packets and electric socks are an option if you are having problems with generating your own heat on the hands and feet extremities.


I have included some links on this page to sites that I believe offer good quality apparel. I may get a small referral fee if you shop at these suppliers using my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

There is an eco-friendly movement recently to recycle old fibres to make into new garments.  Patagonia is a leader in this cause and sensitive about its carbon footprint. I am delighted to be able to represent them.

Some items get expensive I know. Think of it as an investment in comfort and safeguarding against frostbite and the nasty Canadian winters we can get stuck in. Also, consider it as a little insurance to better your odds when the going gets tough or there is a problem. They usually last longer too.

Check used clothing stores for older similar garments good for the trail.  And try ski swaps at Nordic ski club events they may have gently worn garments.

So there you have it, a basic getup to take on Ontario winters and enjoy them. As mentioned, modify your wardrobe according to the activity and weather outside.

Then get out there and Go for It!

For more info on this topic :

MEC – Clothing Layers: How to Stay Warm

Salomon – How to Properly Dress in 3 Layers 

Outside Magazine – Dress for Cross Country Skiing



Play safe, stay warm – Dan R.

Suggested locations to shop online:

Quality Clothing with Fast Shipping

Patagonia – up to 40% OFF Sale on Winter Apparel

Salomon  – Outdoor Ski Clothes Layers

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) – Nordic Ski Jackets, Gloves, Hats, Socks

February 7, 2021No comments,
Tips on Trying Nordic Skiing

For those of you wondering and wishing to get out and try some Nordic skiing for the first time, here are a few tips to get you started.

I am going to help you sort out the easiest and safest options to try out this sport…so you do not get frustrated or hurt and give up too soon.

To give you the best sense that cross-country or skate skiing is indeed fun and to your liking, you need to pick the right resort, have decent gear, good conditions and go a few times.

Renting gear and trying a local established resort is what I recommend.

If you wish to continue skiing yearly, then you can buy gear and travel farther. (I hear Norway has a few scenic loops.) lol

Naturally, if you are sporty and have downhill skied before, then your base skill level is sound. Whether you actually like skiing on a trail in the woods is a personal preference. It’s like hiking but faster.

You can have hills to climb and then zoom down. And it can be a full workout if you want it, especially skate skiing.

I find it great to get out of town in the fresh air and nature. The solitude on the trail gets me reflecting on what I did last week and making plans or nothing at all. Nordic skiing is a very individual experience.

You may enjoy as I have, taking the club ski bus and skiing as a group with friends. Perhaps it will lead you to pack for a backcountry trek in the Rockies one day or getting into racing.

Dangerous? Well, we all fall sometimes, just make sure you aim for the soft snow and not a tree. It’s always possible to get hurt but I rarely ever see it.  Learn how to stop and turn first! Stick to the Beginner Green trails and perhaps go with experienced friends or take lessons.



ski names



I have listed at the bottom of this post my top recommended beginner locations. Keeping in mind novice skiers want easy, flat terrain with few hills. Paths are wide with gradual turns. Most locations have gear rentals and lessons offered.



– But first an FYI about the sport –


Here is an Overview to get you Started Skiing:



You can try skiing on borrowed skis as a beginner at a local park, but I would suggest a more enjoyable outing is to go to a “resort”. This would be at one of the Nordic locations listed on this site. Find one close by that rents gear.

They will have safe, beginner trails designed for Nordic skiing and groomed for Classic and Skate skiing. You will not be surprised with steep descents, tight turns…especially at the bottom of a hill. Yow!

As a novice skier, use the short beginner Green trails. Judge your skill level and progress from there. You will develop a sense of how to balance, turn and stop on your skis,  you do not need any challenges yet.

Starting out, you will want people around just in case and perhaps a ski patrol service. Though never crowded, a rustic trail may have no one on it. Popular ski spots have plenty of signage and you will be glad to see eventually the one that says –

Parking Lot this Way  –>

Having equipment issues or getting lost in the winter out on the back end of a run as the sun sets is no fun. So stick with the popular closer, short loops for safety.




Trail Fee:

Expect low; certainly much, much lower than the cost of a tow ticket for downhill skiing.

Trail fees average around $10 a day, fancy resorts are higher at about $20+, and many woodlots and public park areas are Free.

Paying a trail fee at an organized “resort” is suggested. You get groomed trails with ski tracks and signage to get you back to the parking lot. Trying a field or local forest will be more challenging to cut your own trail (bushwacking) and may dampen your spirits.

Resorts have plenty of amenities and comforts to get you through the day. These can include a warm chalet, bathrooms, snack bar, lunchroom, change rooms, pro shop, lessons, lodging etc.  Convinced?


scales on cross country skis
grip scales on skis bottoms

Rent/ borrow first. Buy later, if you like it. Renting is most convenient at a resort, and renting gear in your town may not be so easy, if available at all. The good news is most places do rent. (List below) Typically a package (skis, poles and boots) is $20 – $30 a day.

Unfortunately, used gear rented or borrowed may not fit and/or be sized for your height and weight exactly and the skis likely will glide a tad slow. So expect better performance and fit with new shiny skis.

Not going like the wind is safer on your first outings as you learn. Later the name of the game is waxing to minimize friction, work less, zip along faster… smile more. At that point, you will upgrade.

Buying Nordic gear is at times scarce as this is not as popular a sport as downhill skiing. Try sports shops stocking downhill gear, they may have a small Nordic dept. MEC has a large selection and a few ski destinations have a pro shop too. A few bicycle shops like Velotique carry ski gear in the winter. Play it Again Sports offers used gear, and you can trade-in too.

I am keeping it simple here and recommending what they call Waxless skis. Meaning, you do not need grip wax. The grip comes from “fish scales” on the bottom to give you traction on the kick. (glide wax does go on the ends, so they are not literally waxless)

Skate skis and boots differ from classic cross-country ski gear. Look into it some more if you prefer to try that.

An average new gear package is about $500 + clothing $300. Budget for New Skis + bindings ~ $250, poles ~ $50, boots ~ $150, waxes ~ $30. I have often bought used boots as my son seems to need a pair almost annually!



nordic ski group



Picking a bad weather day or perhaps better stated, a poor snow conditions day can spoil an outing for any skier. Bad snow and temperatures too hot or cold do not make for fun times.

Ideal conditions are temperatures between -2 to -10C, and new snowfall in the previous few days. Warmer temps give you slow, heavy wet snow that is tricky to ski through. On colder days below -15C, it can be too chilly and hard to dress for.

Check weather forecasts and snow conditions before you make plans; there can be fickle weather in Ontario.

The best locations have trail grooming snowmobiles. Though no resort makes snow for Nordic trails, good grooming and a set track are worth the trail fee.

And a warm cabin/chalet to retreat to for lunch with a hot chocolate is certainly welcome for the novice. You have plenty of time to rough it in the bush later.



family skiing on trail



You may be a natural at it or have some experience downhill skiing to get you started. Practice by going out every week to improve your skills.

Always ski in your comfort zone. Yet work at expanding it to improve and enjoy this sport. Evenly it will take less effort to go farther and faster.

Can you ask experienced friends to take you along, show you some pointers? (Just don’t keep them from doing a run at their own speed eventually.)

Joining a Nordic ski club is a great way to pick up tips. Skiing in a group also pushes you a bit and can be a safer option for the novice.

Learn how to STOP and TURN first!

Yes not be able to stop or turn well is a frightening situation for a novice skier. Find a gently sloping hill with no trees around to practice and sort out your balance, braking and turning skills.

Actually many locations have club lessons or ski staff to instruct. Paid lessons could be a good idea.
This can vary in availability, some places offer same day single lessons others you may need to join the club and book it.



Here are a few videos I found to get you started on technique:


What to Pack:

This sport takes you out in the cold of the winter on trails that at times that can be far in the bush and lonely. So you need to be self reliant and prep for it. As a beginner, you will not venture too far from homebase on the Green trails. Still packing a few light, small items is wise.

The first mistake beginners make is how they dress. In short, you want to underdress in layers and as you warm up, you start to unzip and vent. You actually do not want to sweat much as this will chill you if you stop too long.

So when you leave the chalet you will feel slightly cool. As you ski your core will heat up to a comfortable temperature, yet not getting you sweating excessively.

Go for polyester and wool blends for socks and long underwear. Use a breathable windbreaker type of jacket. Have a hat and good warm gloves/mitts that can grip the poles.

Eat when you get back from the trail. But bring some water, snack bars + phone.  Note your water may turn into a block of ice if you do not keep it warm.

A paper map is nice to have, some larger resorts have one to take, for the smaller locations, try printing out the maps on this site. Your phone may not get a signal, though GPS will work with a pre-downloaded map. And keep that battery warm.

Suggested locations to shop online:

Quality Clothing with Fast Shipping

Patagonia – up to 40% OFF Sale on Winter Apparel

Salomon  – Outdoor Ski Clothes Layers + Skis, Boots, Poles

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) – Nordic Ski Jackets, Gloves, Hats, Socks, Skis, Boots

As you know, any new skill takes more than one attempt to master and enjoy. So I do hope you give it a few chances and gauge how well you like it. You will feel new muscles ache days later, that’s ok, it will pass as you train yourself to ski better, faster and farther.

My wife Teresa has gone back to snowshoes; she just did not take to Nordic skiing, while my son Trevor at 14 is flying down the hardest hills. Meanwhile, I have been at it for 35 years and still love it.

You be the judge. If you follow my advice,  at least the odds are good that you will enjoy it. Now get out there before the snow melts and just try it!


Recommended Beginner Nordic Ski Locations :

Groomed, mainly flat terrain on Beginner loops, ski gear rentals, Nordic ski instruction offered.

Southern Ontario

Northern Ontario

Other locations with beginner flat wide trails. No grooming, bring your own gear.

sunset ski trail in the pines

I have included some links on this page to sites that I believe offer good quality apparel. I may get a small referral fee if you shop at these suppliers using my links. This is at no extra cost to you.
January 20, 20212 Comments, ,