When I first moved to Peterborough, I kept hearing about Kawartha Nordic Ski Club. On a snowy weekend I finally drove the forty minutes north with a few friends, none of whom had cross-country skied since childhood. We rented gear and hit the trails, choosing a gentle loop through the woods with a few manageable hills. The next week my wife and I were at Wild Rock Outfitters getting fitted for skis, poles, and boots. I’ve been skiing all over Kawarthas Northumberland in the years since, and I can report Kawartha Nordic remains a top choice for beginners and pros alike.
Exploring Kawartha Nordic is an annual tradition for me now, but no one knows the trails better than lead lodge attendant Wendi Reid. Wendi gives me some background on the organization: “Kawartha Nordic is a cross-country ski club and it’s situated on the edge of the Canadian Shield in North Kawartha,” she says, which explains the snowier, woolier landscape despite its closeness to Peterborough. As a non-profit, the club is mainly run by volunteers and a few dedicated staff. That team helps maintain twenty-nine ski trails catering to a variety of ski levels, for a total of roughly fifty kilometres of trail. Classic skiing, skate skiing, and snowshoeing trails are available, with an on-site rental trailer offering equipment for all three sports.
Judging by Wendi’s description, my first experience there was typical. “We do actually have quite a few first-timers that come to Kawartha Nordic,” she says. ”The staff are also quite knowledgeable regarding the trails and the layout of Kawartha Nordic. We can help you out with the best equipment that would suit you… If it’s your very first time then we have some skis that are going to be better for that. If you’ve been out four or five times and you want to bring your skiing up a notch then we have the next level ski that will be a little bit sleeker, a little bit faster than your beginner ski.” If you prefer to learn the ropes before striking out on your own, KN has got you covered: they offer the Jack Rabbit classic and skate ski programs for kids (“we have about 200 children that participate every Saturday”), as well as adult lessons for both styles on Sundays.
You can probably picture a classic cross-country skier gliding along, but skate skiing may be less familiar. Wendi says the newer style is gaining serious traction. Skate skiing is a faster style, it gives you more momentum and more speed,” she says. “It’s a little bit more of an aerobic workout.” The skate-like motion requires a wider, smoother trail, which is where Kawartha Nordic’s mechanically groomed sections come in handy. Classic skiers can use the trackset portion of those same trails for a silky ride — around 25-30 kilometres of the trails accommodate both classic and skate skiing.
That leaves about twenty-five kilometres for the old-school classic skiers, who can access narrower backcountry trails. For advanced skiers, that includes the challenging trek to Bennett Cabin at the furthest northern edge of the property. You don’t have to ski all day to visit one of Kawartha Nordic’s warmup cabins, however, as the Tanney, Laderach, and Sugar Shack cabins are readily accessible and their wood stoves regularly stoked. At any of the cabins you can pop off your skis for a short rest, bring snacks or a thermos of hot chocolate, and enjoy the camaraderie of Kawartha Nordic’s 800-member community.
When I ask Wendi what’s new at Kawartha Nordic, she points to the expanded trails close to the entrance area. By criss-crossing existing trails, it’s possible to stay within half a kilometre of the main Woodfine Chalet while trying some more challenging downhills and bracing climbs. To date two and half kilometres of trail are lit, which has opened up the night skiing possibilities. Wendi recommends checking the Kawartha Nordic website for special events like moonlit ski sessions.
Wendi’s knowledge of the trails is comprehensive, but she’s cagey when it comes to picking a favourite. “Up here it’s the variety. We have a lot of trails, and a lot of our trails aren’t really that close to another trail,” she says. “We can have two busloads in here on a busy Sunday, and you’re still able to find solace out on the trail. You’ll drive in here and see the parking lot is absolutely full and the lodge is full of people, and you get out onto the trails and it’s amazing that we’re still sizeable enough that you can find a quiet place and not run into any skiers for 15, 20, half an hour.”
To ski lovers that description is probably enough to evoke the soft brush of skis on snow, the feel of gliding past snow-burdened evergreens and through quiet stands of maple and birch. Kawartha Nordic offers that meditative feeling along with a huge range of amenities for beginners and special events for athletes looking to go further. It’s one of the purest ways to experience winter in Ontario and a must-do if you’re in the region when conditions are good.
Where to get your nosh in the North
The Lakefield Pantry – to get your fixins for a DIY trail mix
The Market, Lakefield – to add a bit of gourmet to your trail snacking
The Nutty Bean, Lakefield – for your pre-ski coffee
Big Cedar Country Store – stop in here to warm your insides with the best homemade kimchi
Honey’s Diner, Big Cedar – home cooked meals that give you the Grandma vibes
The Swiss Bear, Apsley – head a little further north and you’ll feel like you’re in the alps with European home-style fare