Benjamin Hiard

Program officer, Outdoor activities

Thursday, December 7, 2017 2:37 pm

When I think of winter in Gatineau Park, the first word that comes to mind is “magical.” Ten years ago, when I left my native France, I never dreamed that winter could be this magnificent and spectacular. Today, I’m proud to be working for a conservation park like Gatineau Park.

It never ceases to amaze me every time I get to enjoy my favourite winter activities in Gatineau Park. Although I do have a bit of a competitive streak, I’m more the type who enjoys the peace and tranquillity of getting out in nature. I’m not really much of an athlete.

Different trails, different ways to have fun

I often feel a deep sense of tranquillity on the Park’s trails, which is exactly what appeals to me about the different activities I enjoy in Gatineau Park. What types of activity?

The Park offers four types of winter activities:

With a network covering over 270 km of trails, the Park has something for everyone. You can follow the routes you like, or drop by the Gatineau Park Visitor Centre in Chelsea for suggestions.

Northern sector

I have to admit to a special fondness for the northern sector of the Park. There, you can take a loop that leads back to your starting point, and enjoy a well-deserved break at one of 10 day shelters.

For snowshoeing or snow biking, I would suggest starting at the P15 parking lot in Meech Creek Valley and take trail 70. It’s one of the most interesting trails, alternating between hills and valleys, open and wooded areas. Along the way, two charming cabins, Healey Shelter and Herridge Shelter, are sure to add to your delight.

And since we’re talking about the northern sector, I would be remiss not to mention two interesting options.

  • On weekdays: The Transcollines transit service stops at parking lot P17. Why not head out for adventure in some breathtakingly beautiful countryside and ski back to town?
  • On weekends: Since some parking lots are quite busy, you can park your vehicle in parking lot P11 and take trail 36 to the northern sector. I guess you can tell I’m a classic cross-country skier! If you prefer the southern sector, you can also park at P11 and head to the parkways on trail 36 south.

Southern sector

Considered the heart of the network, the trails in this sector criss-cross and interconnect. History buffs will be interested to learn that there’s a story behind the names of many of these trails. But that’s all I will say. I’ll leave it to you to find out more!

For more experienced skiers, the southern sector contains most of the back-country trails. These trails are not mechanically groomed. In other words, they are left in their natural state. Ask anyone who likes to ski on the back-country trails about the winter wonderland that these trails become each time there’s a fresh snowfall.

Some of the day shelters in this area are more accessible than others. For example, you can ski to Western Shelter from parking lot P12.

Here are two final bits of information about the southern sector:

  • Winter biking enthusiasts can reach the snowshoe trails near the Relais plein air from the Leamy Creek Pathway. We are partners with the Ville de Gatineau in a winter biking pilot project in this area.
  • Hikers who don’t have a lot of time can get out for a breath of fresh air by taking the Pioneers Trail at the southern entrance to the Park, just steps from the city. Unlike some of the other trails, you can walk your dog on this trail.

To ensure that everyone has a good time, users should be considerate of other users by staying on the trail designated for their specific activity. This basic rule makes the Park experience much more enjoyable.

Our trail maintenance crew

No discussion of trail quality would be complete without mentioning the invaluable work of the Park’s trail maintenance crew. The crew is made up of experienced operators who are familiar with the whims of our climate, and who work tirelessly to ensure your enjoyment.

There’s no crystal ball. Trail grooming is an art that takes into account a variety of weather conditions:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Type of snow
  • Freeze/thaw variations

It’s also a science that follows a basic rule: timing. It’s impossible to control Mother Nature, so we have to work with her to produce the best conditions. Last winter, every single one of the Park’s trails was open for over 30 consecutive days!

Pre-season preparation

Naturally, trail maintenance involves extensive pre-season preparations:

  • Undertaking maintenance of the day shelters and read-to-camp units
  • Providing a supply of firewood
  • Maintaining toilets and washrooms
  • Removing snow from the parking lots
  • Preparing rest areas for snowshoers
  • Ensuring the operation of the professional and volunteer ski patrols

Did you know that the money you spend on your season pass or daily pass helps pay for a portion of all these services? If you are a season passholder, I’m sure that you will be pleased with our partners’ exclusive special offers.

Careful preparation: The key to an enjoyable outing

An enjoyable outing often depends on good preparation, which means checking the equipment that we use, as well as the trail conditions.

Cross-country Ski Conditions

Get information on parking lots, ski conditions and grooming operations, recommended network for classic/back-country and skate skiing.

A professional patroller updates an interactive map that provides information at a glance about recommended trails. The map also includes other relevant details like snow temperature and recommended wax. For information about trail conditions, snowshoers and snow bikers can check the specific map for their activity, which is regularly updated.

For a stress-free outing, make sure that you properly assess your skill level, travel distance and trail conditions before heading out.

After effort, comes comfort!

Are you a bit competitive, like me? From February 16 to 18 this year, the Park is hosting the Gatineau Loppet — the most prestigious cross-country ski competition in Canada. This year, the organizer has announced that skiers using the free technique (skate skiing) can now enter the race for the ultimate 51-kilometre challenge.

Has all this talk of winter activity left you needing to catch your breath? Why not relax and enjoy a stay in our overnight accommodations in the Philippe Lake area? For people looking for other easy options, keep in mind that we offer five private winter campsites and three group campsites that can accommodate up to 75 people.

And while we’re on the subject of camping at Philippe Lake, I should mention that ready-to-camp units are still available. Take advantage of reduced weekday rates to treat yourself to a unique experience.

On your marks!

For those who have not yet bought a season pass, now is the time to take advantage of the pre-sale period, which runs until December 10. And if you’re still not convinced, I should tell you that the Park’s winter season has lasted an average of 116 days over the past 15 years! So, see you on the trails?