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Where We Run: Crowsnest Pass

Where We Run: Crowsnest Pass

If you need proof that people make a place, look no further than the trail runners of Crowsnest Pass.  

 

When I texted Susan Lowe-Wylde for advice about trail runs in Crowsnest Pass, she thought for a moment and texted back, “Why don’t I go with you?”

Susan and her husband Ian are two of the four race directors for the Minotaur Skyrace and own another great independent outdoor store called spry in Blairmore, AB. They’re also distributors for Xact Nutrition, a great range of products we also stock at RunUphill.

Sure, the mountains in Crowsnest Pass might not be as dramatic as in the Bow Valley, but it’s home to an amazing community of trail runners as well as lots and lots of great, untrafficked trails. In fact, there are so many trails, Susan worries visitors like me will get lost.

Her solution? Organize a group run for someone she’s never met.

When we arrive at the York Creek staging area, I’m excited to find seven other runners waiting for us. It’s 9:00 am on a Tuesday, but the weather is bluebird and the trail runners of Crowsnest Pass know how to keep their priorities straight.

It’s a friendly and diverse group. The youngest of the runners, Marin Anderson, is just finishing junior high and the most senior might be old enough to be her grandma. Among the others is a recent high school graduate, a couple of local business owners, a biologist, a teacher and elementary school principal, Paul Pichurski.

When he first came to Crowsnest Pass to teach, Paul was focused on mountain biking. But over twenty years living in the Pass, he’s become an equally dedicated trail runner. He started by joining a team for an early edition of the Sinister 7 Ultra and has since competed in 50K ultras, marathons and in all three of the Meet the Minotaur races.

When he and his wife first moved here, he didn’t think they’d stay long. He says, “I think coming from Saskatchewan, it was always the idea that we were headed into the Interior somewhere.” Over time, they found a lot of reasons to stay. “This area has changed over the years with more and more outdoor amenities like the ski hill and the trails.”

As we head up a trail called Big Bear, Paul, his former student Nathan Milford and my partner, Annalise take the lead. I rarely run in groups—I’m a little self-conscious about how slow I am—but they stop frequently to let the rest of us catch up. At nearly every stop Paul ribs Marin, “Why don’t you lead the next one?” She just shakes her head.

If she’s reluctant, I’m not sure why. According to the local paper, Marin ran the closing leg of the 2018 Sinister 7 for the Crowsnest Consolidated High School running team. She crossed the finish line at 1:00 am, helping her team complete the 100-mile course in under 18 hours. She was one of two 12-year-olds on the team.

The high school team is a long-standing tradition at Sinister 7. Every year, race organizers sponsor their entry fees and local teachers, Ryan and Jodi Peebles coach the runners. Paul helped co-coach the team for a few years and then joined the organizing committee for a popular community running race called Sole Survivor as it made the transition to a trail race.

Everyone in our party has a story similar to Paul’s. Some first visited on vacations while others came for jobs or to start businesses. Everyone seems deeply committed to community life in Crowsnest Pass. As volunteers, they help maintain build and local trails and support races like Sinister 7, the Minotaur and Sole Survivor.

It’s easy to see why they stay. We summit a peak overlooking the villages of Coleman and Blairmore, and the views are gorgeous. On our first visit, Annalise and I hike the trail to the Lille historic town site and do some training runs on the lush, quiet cross-country trails near Chinook Lake. We get braver on a second visit, running the trail to Star Creek Basin and doing the popular Saskatoon Mountain loop. A quick look at a map says we’ve barely scratched the surface.

Paul agrees with Susan about getting lost—visitors should be careful. He says, “Not all the trails are marked right,” but adds the best routes start in one of the four villages in the Crowsnest Pass. He frequently trains on the trails at the local ski resort and says, “You can't go wrong on those Pass Powder Keg trails.” On our last morning in the Pass we take his advice and run a quick, joyful loop that finishes on some flow-y single-track.

 

Trail running quick picks in Crowsnest Pass

Mini-taur Mondays

Locals always have the best beta, and our friends at spry are always happy to share their advice. Better yet, plan a long weekend and join a Minotaur Monday group run. This highly recommended two hour “adventure” is a great way to meet the local running community. Minotaur Mondays start September 7, 2020. Check the Meet the Minotaur Facebook page for times and places.

Pass Powderkeg Resort

This local ski area is a favourite with mountain bikers and trail runners. The well-marked trail system has a mix of open and treed trails. Single track trails on the west side were shady, scenic and fun. This is an awesome place to stretch your legs after a long drive and to get oriented to Crowsnest Pass.

Big Bear

11 kilometres long and with about 400 metres in elevation gain, Big Bear makes great morning’s climb. Viewpoints on the two summits offer stunning views up and down Crowsnest Pass. Park at the staging area on the York Creek Road and look for a trail called Sweet Duanage. The more ambitious can run the connector trail that travels eastward to Pass Powderkeg Resort.

Saskatoon Mountain

Saskie is a favourite 10K route that starts on the Miners’ Path in Coleman. The pretty single-track at the base is often busy with sightseers, but once you start the climb, traffic thins out fast. A steep 500 metres later, you’ll have stellar views over the north side of the Pass. A flow-y bit of single track on the north slope makes for a shady jaunt home.

Chinook Lake Trails

If you want to finish your running day with a dip in an alpine lake, visit the cross-country ski trail network in the Chinook Provincial Recreation Area. There are a variety of shorter, simpler runs in the lush forest surrounding Chinook Lake and the quiet campsite makes for a great base for a weekend trip.


Dave Robertson

"I’m writer and a reluctant adventurer based in Western Canada. I’m curious by nature so the topics I cover are diverse — civic affairs, urban lifestyle and outdoor adventure. More and more, I write about experiences that force me from my comfort zone."

 

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Comments

Jody Peebles - August 19, 2020

I was sad to not be able to join you guys on that run!! Thanks for giving Marin a hard time Paul, I miss doing that!!! Glad you enjoyed the run Dave…Big Bear offers some spectacular views!!! Next time you are here we should head up Sentry Mountain…equally spectacular views 😍
Thanks for your kind words about trail running in the Crowsnest Pass. We hold this place close to our hearts.
Happy Trails ❤️

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