April is when most people are thinking about spring, yet every year I and no doubt many others embark on a quest to find cross-country skiing in Gatineau Park. In 1999, March had brought almost record snowfall to the Ottawa region and I had previously ventured up the northern part of Gatineau on April 2nd to find excellent snow conditions. April 18th dawned sunny and chilly with a forecast high of 16 Celsius. There was no snow left in my backyard or anywhere in the neighborhood so I wondered if dream of cross-country skiing would be only an illusion.
I decided not to bring my good skis which turned out to be a good plan. On the way to Gatineau Park, I saw a road race in progress and thought to myself, "most people are thinking about running and bicycling. This is crazy to even think of skiing let alone cross-country. As the Gatineau Hills came into view, the snow situation looked pretty dismal. My first stop was at P10, but my hopes were dashed as there was more pavement than snow. There was only one place left to try - P12. When I finally arrived, the trail was completely covered by snow.
The day had warmed slightly as the sun shone. The rush of meltwater in the nearby river created a dull roar which echoed through the trees. At the top of the trail, I could see that it was completely covered by snow in the distance, so I would not have to resort to carrying my skis - what could be amusingly referred to as ski-cross.
Surprisingly, I met another skier further along the trail and was informed that the section of Ridge Road was in pretty good shape. When I finally reached Ridge Road, pools of water were starting to form on the snow, and channels of water cut through the snow which made some stream crossings quite exciting.
The skiing on Ridge Road was excellent, although I had to walk on the south facing hills. Sometimes there was only snow on the trail and it was like skiing on a ribbon of white tape through the forest. I made it to McKinistry generally without difficulty but coming back was a different story. Sections of the trail that were skiable were wet and muddy. Coming back on trail number 40, I met two who remarked, "you must be in good shape to ski this."
When I reached the parking lot in the late afternoon sun, I reflected on the day. I had set a new personal late skiing record and met a few interesting people.
Photo Credit: Jo-Ann Holden (This photo was taken near Black Lake on March 29, 2004.)