If you are an Ottawan, there’s a good chance you have adapted to the inevitability of winter by taking up sports or activities – either the kind that take advantage of the season and its snowy offerings, or those found in the climate-controlled comfort of an indoor gym or pool.
If you don’t have access to a car, most neighbourhoods are fortunate enough to have local outdoor skating rinks or a recreation centre, and of course there is the World’s Largest Skating Rink which bisects the inner part of the city, and is very accessible by public transportation. However, if you are a cross-country skier, you may experience urban claustrophobia unless you are able to bribe a friend into letting you stow away in their car to the trails. But there is a third way — and believe it or not, it’s the bus!
Ottawa is blessed with three publicly-accessible cross-country ski trail networks within 15km from downtown: Stony Swamp, Mooney’s Bay, and the unparalleled Gatineau Park. As I have recently discovered, each can be accessed relatively effortlessly via public transit. And for those that are skeptical of taking ski equipment on the bus, it may be a relief to know that cross-country skis are usually very light, and with a few ties or a ski bag, can be easily transportable. Just bring a small backpack with your boots, water, snack, and a change of shirt (so you don’t get cold on the ride home). Some backpacks even have straps on the site to hold skis and poles.
The jewel of cross-country skiing in the region, and indeed, one of the preeminent ski trail networks in eastern Canada, is Gatineau Park. The park contains a wide variety of ski trails for both classic and skating techniques, and for the novice and expert alike, including groomed and ungroomed (i.e. backcountry) trails. In all, there are over 200km of trails, encompassing an elevation difference of 320m (1000 feet)—in other words, be forewarned that most ski trails in Gatineau Park involve some significant hills that require climbing.
The access points to the trails in Gatineau Park are formally via parking lots at the periphery of the trail network, and some of these parking lots are also accessible by public transit. The most transit-accessible are parking lots P2 “Relais plein air” (just north of Boulevard du Mont-Bleu) and P1 “Asticou” (about 1km north of Boul. Saint-Raymond), both located along Boulevard de la Cité-des-Jeunes, where STO regular routes 31, 33, 35, 36, 37 and 49 converge. Just look for the blue signs depicting a skier along the road for the respective access point. Parking lot P3 “Gamelin”, which is the southern extent of the cross-country ski trails, is accessible by STO route 49 along Boulevard Saint-Raymond in the Plateau, though a short ski along the emergency access road is required. All the STO bus routes cited above (except route 49 which travels from the Plateau area of Hull) travel to/from downtown Ottawa (via either Wellington Street or Rideau Street on the north side of Rideau Centre where one can connect to the Transitway via a short walk) and Gatineau Centre-ville (née Hull). OC Transpo passes and transfers are accepted on regular STO buses, however OC Transpo tickets are not.
Historically, a ski bus operated to various points in the park in winter to drop skiers at the park for the day. And at an even earlier time, skiers even took the train to various points along the Gatineau River, such as Chelsea and Kirk’s Ferry, and would ski in from there.
Unfortunately, no such ski bus remains to the further reaches (and better trails) of Gatineau Park, including Camp Fortune, the downhill ski centre. Today, some local ski clubs offer carpooling and occasional bus services for its members as well.
Terry Fox Athletic Facility – Mooney’s Bay Park (2960 Riverside Drive):
This city park contains 5km of trails for both classic and skating technique, and has the added bonus of having lights for night skiing. It has full facilities, including change rooms, waxing facilities, and ski rentals, and offers ski lessons. Don’t be fooled that its urban location will make for an unchallenging ski—the modest hill is used to maximum advantage and is used regularly by training skiers. The park is easily accessible by public transit, via OC Transpo route 87 directly from Riverside Drive just south of Brookfield, or via short a walk from routes #111, #117, and #140 along Brookfield/Hog’s Back.
Stony Swamp is located in the Greenbelt between Bell’s Corners and Kanata, and is known for its stunning rugged landscape. Although it is not hilly terrain, it does offer a variety of classic technique ski trails through some beautiful natural areas. It is accessible by public transit via OC Transpo route 166 (P13 – Eastern Bell’s Corners near Bruin Road), 118, 161, and 164 (P6 – Hazeldean Mall), with another entry point from route 118 on Robertson Road about 1km west of Bell’s Corners, and from 166 along Seyton Drive in Bell’s Corners (Trail 24).
photo by Timo Newton-Syms