Ottawa is not a ski resort town by any stretch of the imagination but it still has a lot to offer for lovers of the outdoors. Winter in Canada can last anywhere from 3-5 months, depending on how much it snows. If you’re not taking advantage of all that snow to get out and enjoy winter then you might as well just hibernate for the duration of the season.
I have been doing cross-country for almost a decade, and downhill for a couple of years now. Cross-country skiing, as opposed to downhill, is easier to learn and there are more places where you can just strap on a pair of skis and go. For downhill skiing in Ottawa there is Camp Fortune.
I learned to ski on the slopes of Camp Fortune about two years ago, and although I still consider myself new to the sport, I can generally handle going down a black diamond hill without any problems. If the snow is fresh, the experience is really exhilarating. Camp Fortune has several hills, ranging from beginner level to advanced double black diamond runs, which resemble sheer vertical drops.
During the day, Camp Fortune is generally fairly busy, and sometimes the line-ups can get a little long depending on whether there are any discounts or school trips happening. The views from the top onto Gatineau Park, where Camp Fortune is located, are very beautiful. From some chair lifts it is even possible to get a glimpse of the city in the distance.
Night skiing is a great way to ski at a lower price and with fewer crowds. They do a good job of lighting up the hills and personally I have never had a problem with visibility. As far as I can tell the only downside to night skiing is that you might encounter some reckless snowboarders here and there who like to get high in the bushes. That aside, skiing at Camp Fortune is a wonderful way to get away from the city and spend some time outdoors.
There is even a nice chalet situated at the bottom of Camp Fortune where you can rent or buy skiing equipment, grab a bite to eat, and at the end of the day sit down for a drink at their bar. The best part is that Camp Fortune is only a twenty minute drive from downtown Ottawa.
Gatineau Park is also a great place for cross-country skiing. The park is huge — 361 square kilometers of rolling hills, forests, lakes and rivers. During the winter, snowshoe and ski trails criss-cross the landscape, offering everything from back-country trails to flat open lanes for skate skiing.
There are small chalets with wood stoves scattered along the longer trails so that you can warm up and have a little indoor picnic before setting off again. Some of the more challenging ski trails have great look out spots where you can catch your breath and take in the landscape. My favorite trail in the park is the Heart of the Network Trail which was created nearly 100 years ago and is 18.7 km long. It offers some breathtaking scenic views.
The advantage of paying for skiing in Gatineau Park is that most of the trails are very well maintained. But if you don’t want to pay for parking or ski passes there are also plenty of trails scattered around the city, mainly throughout the Ottawa Greenbelt. In the west end, off of Carling Avenue, there is a great cross-country trail that goes along the Ottawa River. The trail is pretty easy to do and despite being so close to civilization it is tranquil and beautiful. You might even see deer or the odd rabbit if you’re lucky.
My go-to cross-country trail is located on Timm Drive in Bells Corners. This trail is long and winding, with many interesting features. Parts of the trail go through open fields or around trickling streams, while other sections duck under natural archways where the trees grow close together to form intimate pathways. After a fresh snowfall, this trail reminds me a little of the winter landscapes in C.S.Lewis’s Narnia.
Winter can be a bit boring, especially four months of it, if you don’t go outside and enjoy yourself. Bundle up, grab a pair of skis, and go find a trail to explore.