What began as a club for the Sault’s Finnish community is now well known as a jewel for Sault and area cross country skiers, as well as for tourists.
The cross country skiing facilities at Hiawatha Highlands have been around for 60 years.
“They (the Finnish) were used to skiing and it just grew to be not so much of a private club, anybody could join. You don’t need to be Finnish to join the Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club,” said Tina Bowen, Hiawatha Highlands operations manager.
Apart from cross country skiing, Hiawatha Highlands and the Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club, with 50 kilometres of winter beauty on their Crystal, Pinder and Red Pine systems of trails, offer snowshoeing, fat biking on the Crystal Trail, snowshoeing and, beginning last season, guided evening snowshoe tours.
“They are a huge hit. We offer them snowshoes and headlamps, and tonight (speaking to SooToday on Monday) we have 48 people registered for our first evening snowshoe tour for the season,” Tina said.
The Highlands have also introduced snowshoe yoga (billed as ‘Snowga!’) for people to try, with help from Sault fitness club Fit Bodies Fit Minds.
“Those classes seem to be filling up pretty good. Our winters are long, so we want to offer you a variety of activities to help you enjoy winter,” Tina said.
Photographers are also welcome to contact Hiawatha and have guides escort them (for their own safety, and for a fee) around the trails and capture the beauty of the area with their cameras.
“We get a lot of good feedback, personally, through email, through our Facebook page, some people calling it a ‘hidden little gem.’”
As far as cross country skiing lessons go, Tina said anywhere between 500 to 700 children are taught by Hiawatha instructors through working with local school boards, many of the kids catching the skiing bug and bringing their parents back on return visits.
The facility offers daily rates, ‘six packs’ and season passes, differing in price according to age group.
Jordan Reinke, Hiawatha Highlands ski school coordinator, has been working at Hiawatha for the past nine years as an instructor and assisting with customer service.
“It (being a ski instructor) is interesting. You get a wide range of where people are at as skiers, so when you have a chance to develop over these many years as an instructor, you start to be really able to pinpoint how to help people improve their skiing (from beginners to more advanced).”
“I’ve grown up in this area and started working here in high school. I like my job, being involved for so long in the ski culture.”
While locals enjoy Hiawatha, Jordan said many visitors are also impressed with the well-groomed trails, stating that’s a feather in the Sault’s tourism cap.
“I would say definitely look into learning cross country skiing. There are so many pros to it, whether you’re into athletics and want to cross train, it’s also something you can do with your family, it’s something you can fit in after work because we’re open in the evenings (9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday)...we have a lot to offer everybody,” Jordan said.
“I have seen this place grow,” Tina said.
“When I started here there was myself, a manager, one trail groomer and a call-in ski instructor, so I’ve seen it grow to about 12 people. It makes me feel good to know I’ve been a part of that growth. I’m passionate about what I do and the people I’m surrounded with here are really great people.”
Tina is now in her 14th year in her current role at Hiawatha, crossing over from a previous 13-year stint at Searchmont Resort.
Hiawatha Highlands has a large volunteer base helping to maintain the trails, the paid employees taking care of the business end of things, Tina said.
“We work very well together.”
While speaking to SooToday, Tina pointed out a group of a dozen cross country skiing enthusiasts from Michigan enjoying the trails.
“We have the snow right now, and they don’t, so they made the time to come up here. We get a lot of American tourists and the university brings in international students. We’ll book them for a snowshoe adventure or ski lessons, but primarily our visits are from locals, and we also get people who’ve moved away from the Sault and come back to enjoy what we have to offer.”
Hiawatha Highlands will also be hosting its 4th Annual Hiawatha SnowFest Sunday Jan. 20, including cross-country skiing, a snowshoe run, fat biking, guided and self-guided snowshoe tours and brunch provided by Cafe Natura, the day’s activities starting at 9 a.m. at the Conservation Authority’s Sugar Shack on 1100 Fifth Line East as part of World Snow Day celebrations.
To register for this event and other activities, and for all other information on Hiawatha Highlands, visit their website