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Terrain above the treeline unique in Eastern Canada

By Keith Nicol and Heather Nicol | Times & Transcript Staff

Western Newfoundland is a winter wonderland and offers fine cross-country skiing at several Nordic ski clubs and alpine skiing at Marble Mountain.

But what makes this area different from almost anywhere in Eastern Canada is its back country skiing.

Most of Eastern Canada, including almost all areas of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, have virtually no areas that are above treeline. You need to head to British Columbia and the Rockies of Alberta to have extensive areas of alpine terrain. But Western Newfoundland also has many areas above treeline and this creates a unique opportunity for those people who want to go ski touring in an alpine setting without travelling all the way across the country.

Let's look at what kind of equipment you need to get into ski touring and where you can get some great back country skiing in Western Newfoundland.

Many people opt for metal-edged telemark skis with plastic boots. The skins area is used for traction up hill and then these are removed when you decide to ski downhill. The advantage of this sort of gear is that it is perfect for making telemark turns in a wide range of conditions, from winter powder to spring corn snow.

Telemark boots are designed to flex at the toe so travelling uphill is easy and climbing skins which attach to the bottom of the ski allow you to climb up steep slopes with ease.

If you don't have this sort of gear, then you can still enjoy many back country areas in Western Newfoundland as long as you don't try to descend any of the steeper areas.

Also, basic ski wax doesn't allow you to climb as steeply so often skiers with basic ski touring equipment search out tamer back country terrain. Generally, the ski equipment that you use at a Nordic ski area where trails are groomed by machine will not be suited to Western Newfoundland's back country due to the snow conditions and steep terrain you will likely encounter.

Now, let's have a look at some easily accessible back country ski destinations.

One of the most popular areas is the Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park. This area sees skiers, snowshoers and snowboarders throughout the winter but sees the most people in April and May.

The main feature is a huge glacial bowl that has many steep slopes associated with it. It also has a stellar view of Bonne Bay and you can even see Gros Morne Mountain in the distance.

You can access this area from the Tablelands parking lot near the community of Woody Point.

From here it takes around an hour to reach the top of the bowl and many people will yo-yo ski the steep slopes which only get better as the sun softens the spring snow.

Less experienced skiers can stick to the more gentle slopes but this area has numerous steep slopes to appeal to experts.

There are many places to enjoy lunch on the exposed rocks, either at the top of the bowl or along the flanks of the bowl. Some skiers head off across the flattish slopes above the Tablelands bowl and this is an ideal place for basic ski touring gear.
Terrain above the treeline unique in Eastern Canada

Western Newfoundland is a winter wonderland and offers fine cross-country skiing at several Nordic ski clubs and alpine skiing at Marble Mountain.

The top of the Tablelands is well named and you can kick and glide for many kilometres across the snowy expanse of this area.

But be warned: the Tablelands is also an area that is prone to avalanches and some huge snow slides have occurred in the past. Also, the prevailing west winds build out a huge cornice which overhangs the bowl and we have seen chunks of cornice the size of minivans which have broken off in the bowl. Getting smacked by a piece of cornice the size of a washing machine or hit by a wet snow avalanche is not the way most people expect to greeted when skiing the Tablelands but it has happened several times over the past few years.

Fortunately there have been no fatalities but watch the snow and weather and carrying an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel won't go astray.

Another area that offers great views and fine skiing is the slopes in the Blow Me Down Mountains near Corner Brook. One place to access these mountains is the Blow Me Down Nature Trail parking lot, just past the community of Frenchman's Cove.

The steep slope rises up and the views just keep getting better as you gain altitude. You can see out to the island-studded Bay of Islands and, once you gain the ridge, you can head off in many different directions.

On our last trip into this area we headed south along the ridge and dropped into a steep bowl where we could carve turns on perfect corn. Again, you have to eye the snow stability because, in this area, we saw evidence of avalanches in several places.

Our return route saw us skimming along the base of the Blow Me Down Mountains back to the parking lot.

Source article with photos: here