Cross Country Skiing into the Ski Shelters at Duck Mountain Provincial Park
The parking lot at the Log Inn Warm-Up Shelter in Duck Mountain Provincial Park is quiet. That’s a good sign for us despite there being several other locations to access the 50 kilometres of groomed cross-country ski trails in the park.
Mitch and I are gearing up to ski into one of five warm-up shelters to spend the night. They are first-come, first-served - which is why I am making note of how busy the trails appear.
We heft our overnight packs onto our backs and snap into our skis. Our bags are lighter than usual since we only need to pack a few items of winter clothing, a sleeping bag and food for the night.
On to Ski Lake
This region is part of the Manitoba Escarpment with ponds, lakes and creek channels tucked between old-growth forest and rolling hills. It makes the ski trails fun but challenging as there are a few sections of black diamond, which usually means steep hills. I’m a little intimidated on such narrow skis, but once I’ve gotten the feel of them in the parallel tracks, the rush of speeding down makes me whoop out in delight.
By mid-afternoon, we’ve skied past Jack Rabbit warm-up shelter and have made it to Ski Lake. There is a ski rack, snow-covered picnic table and outhouse situated around the little brown cabin. It appears we’re the only ones here.
As we open the door, I’m excited to show Mitch how cute the inside of the recently renovated tiny cabin is. The interior has been redone with wood panelling and a wide bench runs the length of one wall. It intersects with a nearly vertical ladder staircase leading up to a one-person sleeping loft. The fully-insulated shelter can cozily sleep three or four people.
The cabin is stocked with everything an overnight adventurer could need. The cabinets are full of dishes, candles, matches and newspapers. A note on the desk encourages skiers to sign the guestbook. Although the shelters are free to use during the day and overnight, purchasing a Kamsack Ski Club membership or making a donation is greatly appreciated and helps maintain the trails and ski huts.
There are two cast iron pans hanging on the underside of the loft. On the walls are framed pictures of wolves, a raccoon and a porcupine next to a set of antique skis on display. There’s even electricity from a small solar panel mounted on the roof connected to a timer. The cabin is simple yet charming.
Stacked against the building outside is a well-stocked supply of wood. Mitch grabs the axe and gets to work chopping firewood into kindling. I pull out a bucket of birdseed and fill the wooden birdhouse to see what species we’ll attract.
A region for nature lovers
We start a fire before going out for a late afternoon ski to visit Moose Lake shelter. On the trail, I can feel the quietness around us. Aside from the swish-scratching of our skis, the silence hangs heavy through the snow-covered trees. Despite its southern location (it lies at a lower latitude than Saskatoon), Duck Mountain Provincial Park is part of the Boreal forest. It is here that the spruce, tamarack and balsam fir transition into aspen parkland. It makes the perfect home for large animals like elk, moose, deer and lynx. I’ve also been told there’s a pack of nearly two dozen timberwolves in the area - although I’ve yet to spot one myself.
We meet three sisters at Moose Lake. They plan an overnight getaway whenever possible and have been coming out to enjoy the trails in Duck Mountain for decades. I clearly see the allure of this region for nature lovers.
Mitch and I return to Ski Lake just after sunset to a still-warm cabin. We make a quick meal and feel unusually tired afterwards. It must be from all the fresh air. We fall asleep on the floor of the cabin, lulled by the crackle and pop of the wood burning in the stove.
I wake a few hours later to a chorus of wolf howls in the distance. Despite the warmth of my sleeping bag, goosebumps raise the hair on my skin as the wolves call back and forth. Their haunting medley soon woos me back into a deep sleep, cozy in the safety of the shelter.
In the morning, it’s no surprise Mitch is up before me. It’s also no surprise he has stoked the fire and is currently cracking eggs next to a pair of sausages sizzling in the cast iron pan. We’ve slept for nearly twelve hours and I feel very rested.
Coffee and hot chocolate in hand, we take our time eating breakfast. We’re in no rush to go anywhere and want to enjoy the peace and quiet out on the trails in Duck Mountain Provincial Park for as long as possible.
Author & Photographer: Ashlyn George
Ashlyn George is an adventure travel writer and social media influencer based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. By 30, she visited more than 60 countries and all 7 continents while documenting it on her blog The Lost Girl’s Guide to Finding the World. Today, Ashlyn creates content in partnership with world-renowned brands like NFL Canada, McDonald’s and CLIF Bar and has been featured in the New York Times and listed by Kayak as a Top 10 Travel Hacker. Find her online at @thelostgirlsguide or www.thelostgirlsguide.com