Treading ‘where there is no path’ affords coolest rewards

While winter does not call to my soul, I know that I need to embrace its frosty, serene beauty and get outside. Like the anonymous meme says: “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.”

With winter, and knowing that I have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), I employ the usual strategies, with two SAD lamps, doubling my vitamin D intake, and exercising in nature. Given that I live right off the single track trails at Hiawatha Highlands, my exercise of choice is usually walking in the woods or cross-country skiing. I particularly like backcountry skiing.

For those not aware, there are three main types of cross-country skiing: classic, skate, and backcountry. Classic cross-country skiing requires narrow, groomed, parallel tracks less than a foot apart. Skate skiing uses wide groomed diagonal slide trails, to allow for the wide skating-like motion on skis. Backcountry skis require no tracks; you ski where you want to ski.

Lucky for us, Hiawatha has some of the most amazing ski trails for all three in Ontario, in addition to snowshoeing and fat-biking trails. (Important to note here, these groomed trails are not for walking your dog or yourself. By walking on the tracks, unless you weigh nothing (which is impossible after the holidays), you ruin the tracks for skiers and can make it dangerous for us.

There are merits to all three types of cross-country skiing, but my favourite is backcountry. I love having the freedom to go where I want, when I want. Sure, it is easier to ski an already groomed trail, but many things in life that are not easy are more rewarding.

There is a quote often linked to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” While I love the quote, the website says that he had nothing to do with it. It traces it back to Muriel Strode in her 1903 poem, Wind-Wafted Wild Flowers: “I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail.”

I know that backcountry skiing can be more dangerous, because you might not see logs or other perils under the snow until it is too late and your skis find them. I know that breaking trails is not for everyone, some people prefer to have their course charted.

T.S. Eliot said: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” There is something so satisfying to me in leading, adventuring, exploring, seeing what I am capable of, not knowing if others have done it before me, and not caring. I like to jazz up a routine, take new paths, go in the out door.

I love that Hiawatha has the ability to provide a playground for all three types of skiing, plus fat-biking and snowshoeing. While I might not see you on the groomed trails (unless I am crossing them), I see you as a fellow skier, and I love that we can all choose what works for us, skiing together, but apart.

Whether you choose the groomed or non-groomed ones, happy trails. (And happy birthday to my mom!)

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