Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Enjoy Manitoba the way it's meant to be

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On Tuesday, voters in Denver, Durango and Boulder decided it's OK to get Colorado high. Then the state decided to send Manitoba a Colorado Low.

If all goes according to meteorological plan, you should be able to look outside your window today and see copious quantities of snow, a substance once considered commonplace in southern Manitoba.

After the winter of 2011-2012, when the rivers barely froze and the snow barely fell, it's almost as if someone legislated against the white stuff north of the border.

Last winter may have been the worst in recent memory for cross-country skiing, thanks to a snowcover window that lasted barely more than two months.

After that non-winter, the return of snow is more than welcome in Winnipeg, where a huge part of our collective identity is derived from our relationship with the precipitation that piles up along our sidewalks, turns our back lanes into rutted Mattel tracks and covers up the leaves we didn't rake in October.

Without snow, Winnipeg is just another North American city with no leaves on the trees in January. Without snow, southern Manitoba is just an enormous expanse of frozen canola stubble, punctuated by a couple of gas bars and Chicken Chefs.

To celebrate the return of the billowy, white blanket of snow that beautifies this province, go out and enjoy an early-winter Manitoba the way it's supposed to be -- covered in snow.

The big dump expected today should mean good conditions by Sunday, although it's unrealistic to expect grooming to take place overnight. But there should be some tracks inside the city at Windsor Park Nordic Centre and just outside Winnipeg at Beaudry Provincial Park and Birds Hill Provincial Park, thanks to eager-beaver skiers who are probably camped outside, shovelling snow on the trails as you read this.

Further away from Winnipeg, the Shannondale trail system northwest of Morden is among the first in southern Manitoba to be groomed, thanks to efforts of ski fanatic David Lumgair. This privately owned Pembina Valley trail network has 16 kilometres of classic trails and seven kilometres of skate-ski trails on private land.

There's no guarantee Shannondale will be ready Sunday, but the absence of river crossings make this one of the safer early-season bets. To to get there from Winnipeg, take Highway 3 southwest to Morden and continue west to gravel Road 34 West, also known as the Thornhill turnoff. Turn right and drive 2.6 kilometres north. Turn left at Lumgair Seeds, a farm property with red barns.

This is the last set of structures on the left before the road dips into a river valley -- If you descend into the valley, you've gone too far. If you go, make sure to place a trail-maintenance donation in the dropbox at the trailhead.

Also within an hour of Winnipeg -- and devoid of river crossings -- the Bittersweet Trails sit on the northern slope of the Assiniboine River Valley southwest of Portage la Prairie.

This 21-kilometre, intermediate-level trail system features mostly one-way routes, with several hills and a good views of the valley to the south. There are also 12 kilometres of skate-ski trails, which won't be ready this early in the season.

From Winnipeg, take the Trans-Canada Highway west and continue past Portage la Prairie to Bagot. Turn south at Provincial Road 242 and continue going south until you begin descending the Assiniboine River Valley. The eastern trailhead and parking lot will be on your right, before the river. If you cross the river, you've gone too far. Again, use the dropbox for donations at the trailhead.

As well, all but one of the trails at Grand Beach Provincial Park is free of water crossings. This 16-kilometre system of forest and meadow trails are slightly less picturesque, but there is one glorious climb northeast of the trailhead.

From Winnipeg, take Highway 59 north and remain on it after it merges with Highway 12. Head west on Highway 12 when it diverges from Highway 50 and then exit to your right at East Beach entrance to Grand Beach. After you pass through the park entrance gate, the road to the trailhead is on the right.

For more ski-trail options, the Cross Country Ski Association of Manitoba maintains a great resource at http://ccsam.ca/

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2012 C12

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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