By Steve Hubrecht

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Columbia Valley nordic skiers love to boast – with good reason — about the quality of cross country ski trails here. Well it turns out that this opinion is shared across the continent: a USA Today poll earlier this winter named the Nipika Mountain Resort-Cross River Canyon Recreation Site nordic trails as the best in Canada and eighth best in North America.

USA Today released its rankings in a Top 10 Cross Country Ski area list which came out in December. Getting nominated for the list, let alone in the top 10, is no easy feat. The Cross Country Ski Area Association (CCSAA), the largest industry association for nordic ski resorts, uses a panel of cross country ski experts to nominate the 20 best places to go nordic skiing in North America. From that list of 20, USA Today then conducts an online public opinion poll that runs for several weeks, with digital voters determining the top 10.

“For us, being a mom-and-pop operation, to go up against the likes of Lake Placid and the Canmore Nordic Centre, and to then beat them to get this ranking, that makes us proud,” Nipika Mountain Resort co-owner, Lyle Wilson,  told the Pioneer.

The trails at Nipika-Cross River have been catching attention for a while now, and have managed to squeak into the USA Today top 10 for the past three years. But this is the first time they’ve beat out all other Canadian nordic ski spots.

The accolade comes as Nipika celebrates the 40th anniversary of its trail system, which is the result of cooperation between the resort and Recreation Sites and Trails B.C. (RSTBC), a branch of the provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

Parts of the trails are on Nipika’s own property, but much lies on the provincially-owned Cross River Canyon Recreation Site. Nipika maintains the whole network as part of an agreement that began in 1983.

“It all started with a 12 kilometre (km) straight ski trail between Nipika and the natural bridge and Cross River Canyon,” explained Wilson. “We’ve been adding to it ever since then.”

The trail network now includes some 50 km of dedicated nordic ski trails, 40 km of packed fat biking and snowshoeing trails, and another 70 km of mixed-use recreational single track that attracts hikers and trail runners in the summer. The biggest single expansion came in 2000, when the network doubled in size with the addition of its southern section.

“We used to groom the one trail with a single skidoo and an old trail-setting groomer. Now we have a whole fleet of state-of-the art grooming gear and six snowmobiles,” said Wilson. “It’s a huge commitment to maintain the trail system, but very worthwhile to have created a local mecca for cross country skiing.”

Back in 1983, Nipika and the province signed a ten year management agreement and they are currently in the 10th year of their fourth consecutive such agreement.

“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, delighted to be recognized by USA Today, and hopeful we can continue to expand,” said Wilson.

The number one spot on USA Today’s list of top 10 nordic ski areas went to Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Colorado. The only other Canadian cross country ski area aside from Nipika to make the top 10 was Stokely Creek Lodge in Ontario, which was ninth on the list, just one spot behind Nipika.