Cross-country ski enthusiasts Linda Murray, left, and Sandra Curtis are shown enjoying a recent day out on the trails of the North Highlands Nordic centre. The upgraded facility includes 12 kilometres of groomed trails in one of Cape Breton’s most scenic areas. CONTRIBUTED
Cape North, N.S. — Linda Murray is not a doctor, but she just might have the perfect prescription for people looking for a little relief from the ongoing pandemic.
“It’s the medication for the COVID angst,” declared Murray, a veteran cross-country skier who has been gliding across the trails of northern Cape Breton for almost half a century.
Her suggested remedy is both a place and a state of mind.
The location is in the part of Cape Breton long known as “down north.” More specifically, it is the North Highlands Nordic operation situated near the Cabot Trail community of Cape North. And, according to Murray, at this time of year it is a magical winter wonderland set in a natural environment of tranquility and pristine beauty.
“It’s all about peace and serenity, especially in these COVID times as being here and getting outside offers an opportunity to get away from all of that.”Linda Murray, long-standing volunteer, North Highlands Nordic
“It’s all about peace and serenity, especially in these COVID times as being here and getting outside offers an opportunity to get away from all of that,” said Murray, whose husband Ken has been serving the area as a physician for close to 50 years.
“Outdoor activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are beneficial to both our mental and physical health. They work together. And there’s no better place than up here.”
An unidentified skier makers her way along one of the groomed trails maintained by the North Highlands Nordic operation in Cape North, Cape Breton. CONTRIBUTED
Murray’s passion for winter activities may even have increased this winter. After all, North Highlands Nordic, whose origins date back to the late 1970s, is continuing to upgrade its facilities and improve its 12-km trail system. Club president Paula Michaelis said members are so far thrilled with the operation’s new location (it had been located in the North Victoria Community Centre) and the new access that leads to the sprawling trail system.
“We’ve been really busy,” said Michaelis.
“We opened our grooming building. We’re now in the final process of getting our warming centre ready. It’s almost complete. It will be painted this week. And it’s all from the wonderful group of volunteers we have in this community.”Paula Michaelis, president, North Highlands Nordic
“We opened our grooming building. We’re now in the final process of getting our warming centre ready. It’s almost complete. It will be painted this week. And it’s all from the wonderful group of volunteers we have in this community.”
The trails are colour-coded for skill levels and all are groomed by a PB 100 Poston Bulley Groomer that maintains the 16-foot wide trails for snowshoeing and classic and skate skiing. The facility presently boasts a 50-cm base. The latest trail report advised skiers to expect faster conditions than normal.
The operation also offers rental equipment that includes skis, ski boots, snowshoes, poles and one baby/small child sleigh called a pulk.
Meet some of the volunteers, a.k.a. the “Helping Hats,” who make things happen at North Highlands Nordic in Cape North. From left, Sandra Curtis, president Paula Michaelis, Joanne Fitzgerald, Rosemary Algar and Lois MacNeil. CONTRIBUTED
In an effort to familiarize visitors to the area, the Nordic centre has partnered with Cross Country Ski Nova Scotia on a new program called Helping Hats that matches skiers with volunteer guides who offer up area history and local culture while touring the pristine wilderness. Helping Hat friends are easy to find as they wear bright neon-coloured NHN toques.
Youth programs are also offered. The Jackrabbits program is for elementary school-aged children, while kids aged three and four can participate in the Bunnies program.
While always keen to introduce young people to the sport, veteran skier Murray said it is an activity for all ages.
“There is no age limit and we see people of all ages out on the trails — from seniors to little kids,” she said.
“It’s a non-impact sport that people can do at whatever ability they have. There are trail maps at each intersection to help people find their way around. There are trails for everybody, including beginners.”
This group of youngsters were learning how to get up after falling during a Jackrabbits program lesson at North Highlands Nordic. CONTRIBUTED
The improvements at the centre are timely. They come at a time when Cape Breton’s tourism industry is transforming itself into a year-round destination. Last summer, Atlantic Canada’s first gondola lift opened at the Ski Cape Smokey resort in nearby Ingonish, while on the west coast in Inverness, Cabot Cape Breton’s world-class golf resort has garnered the island rave reviews from around the globe. There have also been recent road improvements to the Cabot Trail which include surface upgrades and new viewpoints.
Those and other initiatives have prompted other new and existing businesses to take notice.
“We have so much beauty and activities up here north of Smokey,” said Michaelis, a Florence native who now resides year-round at Cabot Landing near the top of Cape Breton Island.
“We’re now finding out that more and more places are opening up again in the winter to offer people places to stay. There are more B&Bs now. It’s becoming a big thing to come up here. We get a lot of visitors from the mainland as well as from across Cape Breton.”
Snowshoers enjoy the splendour of the Cape Breton highlands while making their way along one of the many trails at North Highlands Nordic in Cape North, Cape Breton. CONTRIBUTED
The next organized group activity at North Highlands Nordic is set for Tuesday when the centre hosts a full moon snowshoe/ski evening. The adventure begins at 7 p.m. Headlamps are not required.
There is also something called a loppet. In fact, the centre will be hosting a cross-country ski loppet on March 13 and a snowshoe loppet a week later on March 20.
So, what is a loppet? A loppet is to snow activities what a regatta is to sailing vessels. According to Cross Country Canada, a loppet can be defined as “a great gathering of skiers who ski on a specifically groomed trail.”
The trails will soon host Nova Scotia’s provincial ski team for training. The venue was also used during the Cape Breton-hosted 1987 Canada Games.
Murdock MacLeod proudly stands in front of the new sign at the North Highlands Nordic centre located at the northernmost point on Cape Breton Island’s famed Cabot Trail. MacLeod, who owns a hardware store in Cape North, contributed land to the society behind the centre so it could upgrade facilities and trail access. CONTRIBUTED
Along with the many volunteers, skiers and snowboarders utilizing the Nordic centre trails have Murdock MacLeod to thank. The owner of Cabot Building Supplies in Cape North donated the land for the new trail access, two parking areas and the land for the new buildings.
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