By Conor Mihell
The history of nordic skiing in Sault Ste. Marie is long, colourful and defined by a profound sense of community. More than half a century ago, winter enthusiasts from the upstart Soo Finnish Ski Club blazed their own cross-country ski trails through the snowy woods and rugged hills of what’s now known as the Hiawatha Highlands, located just north of the city centre. Early skiers didn’t know the pleasure of machine-groomed trails. Frontrunners in the club’s recreational races not only set the pace, they also had the challenge of making tracks through the soft powder while keeping ahead of pursuing skiers. Such legendary beginnings kindled one of Ontario’s most vibrant cross-country ski scenes and blazed the way for the development of some of the province’s finest networks of trails.
Fast-forward to 2022, and local event organizer Lawrence Foster was looking to celebrate Sault Ste. Marie’s snowy winters and exceptional skiing terrain. He conceived the inaugural Beaver Freezer Marathon as a fun and adventurous recreational race to wrap up the season at the Hiawatha Highlands. Multiple race options catered to all levels of skiers, fat-bikers and trail-runners, including families, beginners and elite athletes alike, with distances of up to 42 km. Scheduled for mid-March, the event would link existing Hiawatha Highlands nordic ski and fat-bike trails with frozen lakes and wetlands, showcasing the rugged, snow-covered landscape. All proceeds from the volunteer-run event would go towards supporting future trail development to support Sault Ste. Marie’s ongoing efforts to become a hub of outdoor recreation.
“We wanted to make it fun and inclusive,” says Foster, a Sault College professor and former world-class adventure racer. “We had team options. You could race it as a relay or do it as a group. Your kid could ride or ski beside you in the relay. We wanted to have a community event with a friendly vibe, all supporting a good cause.”
First-year registrations far exceeded Foster’s expectations. Upwards of 300 competitors signed up for the event, the majority locals but also approximately 40 registrants from Sudbury, Toronto, Ottawa and Michigan. “It seemed like a great way to ski in places you wouldn’t get to experience otherwise,” says participant Paul Kyostia. “I was looking forward to skiing across the lakes with the benefit of packed trails in between.”
With Foster in charge of mapping a course, participants were sure to get a premium slice of Algoma backcountry. Starting and finishing at the Hiawatha Highlands headquarters at Kinsmen Park, the Beaver Freezer route wound through nearly a dozen frozen lakes and waterways, including Trout and Lower Island and Finn, just north of city limits. Groomers marked and packed the trails for easy skiing, cycling and running. Sault College was the inaugural event’s title sponsor and the college’s Natural Environment students volunteered to assist with race day details, including safety checkpoints and aid stations.
With abundant snowfall throughout the winter and perfect lake ice, the plan seemed bulletproof until a deluge of freezing rain forced Foster to postpone the Sunday race until the following weekend. Foster was deflated, but at the same time he knew that so many dedicated enthusiasts would do far more than salvage the event. Participants and volunteers shuffled their plans and held onto their enthusiasm, and with improved weather conditions Foster says the rescheduled race day was all he ever hoped for. “Countless people lined up to volunteer to make it a great event,” he notes. “I’ve received so many messages of support from people looking forward to next year’s Beaver Freezer. It feels good to be contributing to the momentum of trail development with the Kinsmen Club, the Sault Cycling Club, and Tourism Sault Ste. Marie.”
Foster admits that the weather always remains a wild card for late-winter events, but he’s hoping that scheduling the 2023 Beaver Freezer Marathon across an entire weekend will provide an adequate buffer for any surprises. “The biggest highlight has been the support of the community,” Foster says. But given the area’s deep and passionate roots for nordic sports, local support is a given. As word gets out, Foster anticipates a larger contingent of out-of-towners—with visitors arriving to experience the great trails and welcoming vibe of yet another shining example of why Sault Ste. Marie has always been Ontario’s winter sports capital.
The 2023 event will take place on Saturday, March 11th, with Sunday, March 12th being the backup day. All the information you’ll need including course details, timing and other info is available on the Beaver Freezer website.
By Sault Tourism
Sault Ste Marie is a city that DOES winter – we have the snow, the ice, the winter-loving people and we have incredibly beautiful, frozen waterfalls too! Ice climbing is great way to experience winter; it’s physically challenging, it will get your adrenalin going, it’s beautifully awe-inspiring, and it’s a truly unique adventure!
Steve Foster, from Sault Ste. Marie, is a certified, highly experienced, expert ice climber who will help you have the best possible adventure. His company, Steve Foster Adventure Instruction, offers half day experiences for all abilities, to enjoy these beautifully frozen ice structures.
Steve Foster Adventure Instruction will meet you in the morning at one of his scouted and fully verified locations. From there Steve will provide a fully inclusive tour that includes: professional equipment that fits you, warm clothing should you need it, a quick demonstration, and of course expert instruction from over 25 years ice climbing.
Steve’s tour last around 4 hours and he can work with your specific timing needs. The costs of a tour are $150 a person and includes use of all equipment as well some snacks and a hot chocolate.
You should bring warm clothing, including several layers for extra warmth, though Steve will communicate all the specifics in an email to you after booking a tour!
Whether you are a first-time ice climber or a seasoned veteran, you will have a blast! Depending on the location Steve Foster can provide several different ascent options depending on skill level or just personal preference.
By Sault Tourism
Sault Ste. Marie’s much-loved winter carnival Bon Soo will return for its 60th anniversary celebration presented by OLG, beginning February 4th. 2023’s event promises to bring back the fun with a mix of well-known favorites plus some exciting new additions, including an act best known for their appearance on America’s Got Talent!
So start making your plans to visit; whether it be for the famous Polar Bear Dip or the new and improved Bum Slides, or maybe it’s for new events like the aforementioned Sentimentalists, the exciting Polar Rush or the appetite-whetting Passport to Unity. Keep reading for details of the event or for the full program of the 137 events (yes 137!) visit the Bon Soo website!
Bon Soo 2023 runs from Friday, February 3rd through to Saturday, February 11th. There are three main locations; The Canal District, Northern Superior Brewing Co. and Clergue Park, with many other locations hosting events in and around the city.
Buying a Bon Soo Button for $10 will get you into over 100 events for free. Some other events have an additional charge. All the information about pricing can be found on the dedicated Bon Soo website.
Every day is packed full of fun events, some aimed at families, some aimed at grown ups and many events perfect for all ages! This year our headline events are:
Polar Bear Rush Winter Obstacle, Saturday, February 4th. Bellevue Park hosts the first ever Polar Rush from 10am-5pm. Runners take off in a 2.5km, fun filled course filled with wall climbs, tube running, crazy carpeting
Passport to Unity, Saturday, February 4th. This is a great multi-cultural event at The Canal District from 6pm-10pm. Immerse yourself in a gourmet tasting menu featuring Internationally inspired cuisine and performances from around the world!
4-on-4 Street Hockey Tournament, Sunday, February 5th. A fun outdoor for pre-registered teams takes place at Bay St Active Living community Centre.
The Sentimentalists, Friday, February 10th. The Canal District hosts Bon Soo headline show This world-renowned celebrity mentalist Mysterion teams with mentalist Steffi Kay, creating a two-person mind-reading experience that is truly breathtaking. Watch this special show that has graced America’s Got Talent, sells outs shows across the US and is regularly the headline act on cruises and at theaters and theme parks.
Saturday, February 11th is when arguably the most icon Bon Soo event happens, the famous Polar Bear Dip, which this year is at the Bushplane Museum with musical guest the Hustle Brothers! Registration at noon, jumping begins at 2pm!
Each day is another fun-packed and exciting day of winter events. We’ve broken down some of them here, but be sure to check the Bon Soo website daily for a full run down!
The Snow Carving event actually begins a week earlier on January 28th, to give teams time to design, sculpt and get creative before February 3rd!
Over at Northern Superior is Sno Madness Night #1 with a host of wacky winter games and prizes for pre-registered teams over two nights! If you would prefer to watch, come down and enjoy what is sure to be a lively atmosphere at the Tap Room.
Bellevue Park hosts the first ever Polar Bear Rush Winter Obstacle Course, 10am-5pm.
At Clergue Park enjoy Best in Snow – Snow Sculptures as well as CrokiCurl, Pony Rides from Hidden Hills Stables and Maple Taffy Tasting from Hogan’s Homestead, both from 1-4pm.
In the evening Passport to Unity happens at The Canal District from 6pm-10pm.
Over at Soo Blaster we have a Bon Soo Comedy Night Featuring Glen Foster.
Saturday also marks the start of a number of all week Bon Soo events. The Sault Ste. Marie Museum hosts a special 60-year exhibit, the Bushplane Museum is offering 2-for-1 entry for the entirety of the event for Bon Soo Button holders.
The Canal District hosts Sault Trailblazers Snowmachine Rides
Clergue Park hosts a drop-in Snowshoe Relay Race, along with a variety of other exciting events.
The Bushplane Museum is offering a Crafts and Movie Day, with free entry after 1pm to button holders and there a special screening of the movie Frozen 2 at 2.30pm! Kids are encouraged to bring their favourite Elsa, Anna or Olaf stuffies or cushions to make the afternoon extra special!
The Bay St Active Living community Centre hosts an outdoor 4-on-4 Street Hockey Tournament for pre-registered teams.
Cheer on our Soo Greyhounds as they dawn special Bon Soo Jerseys on game day at GFL Gardens! The puck drops at 2.07pm! These Bon Soo theme jerseys will be available for online auction following the game, at the Greyhounds website.
Sunday is wrapped up at The Canal District with The Sno Ball Family Dance featuring a Children’s magician and a 60th birthday party for Bon Soo.
The Coldest Canuck Challenge at Northern Superior will test your Northern acclimation with a series of Canuck challenges from 6pm-8pm.
At The Canal District you can take part in Dessert and Liquor Tasting.
Gather by the Fire with Thrive Tours is one of the headlines of Tuesday. Visit Clergue Park and gather around the fire to share land-based teachings of Baawating.
Northern Superior hosts EDM Sno Bath (Electronic Dance Music) where you can dance the night away and “chill out” to some good vibes in the snow with DJs Angelazura and Bobby Lawn.
At The Canal District enjoy a Bon Soo Paint Night, family friendly, step by step guided way to paint your own Bon Soo inspired masterpiece!
On Wednesday 5pm – 7pm, enjoy a special night at Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig and enjoy Science North’s Indigenous Ingenuity Exhibit. The evening features an on-site knowledge-keeper, SKG Tours, Tobacco Ties and a feather-wrapping workshop.
Northern Superior gets all hot under the collar with a Fire and Ice Hot Sauce Chicken Wing Challenge (pre-registration required)!
Enjoy Night Skiing and a limited-ticket shuttle bus to Searchmont Ski Resort! The bus leaves Algoma University at 4.30pm and people can ski the snow packed slopes of their favourite hill and enjoy free hot chocolate! In addition, button holders get 50% off tickets and rentals!
The Canal District’s Machine Shop hosts Bon Soo Blues Society Concert featuring The Andre Bisson Band and opening act Lindsay Pugh!
Hiawatha Highlands hosts a special Nighttime Lantern Ski, free for Bon Soo Button holders.
The Canal District hosts Bon Soo headline show The Sentimentalists. This world-renowned celebrity mentalist Mysterion teams with mentalist Steffi Kay, creating a two-person mind-reading experience that is truly breathtaking. Watch this special show that has graced America’s Got Talent, sells outs shows across the US and is regularly the headline act on cruises and at theaters and theme parks.
Saturday is the grand finale day with 19 events happening in 9 different locations! Head to Runway Park for all day Snowmobile Drag Races.
The Canal District has Frozen Canoe Rides from 11am – 1pm,
Then join us for arguably the most icon Bon Soo event The Polar Bear Dip, which this year is at the Bushplane Museum. Come for the fun which includes musical guest the Hustle Brothers! Registration is at noon, jumping begins at 2pm!
Finally, Bon Soo 2023 draws to a close with Bon Voyage, a Queen St Street Party from East St to Spring St. Wave goodbye to Mr. Bon Soo and enjoy a beer garden, food stops, illusionist Ryan MacFarling, winters games such as street hockey and road curling, live music, closing fireworks, more including the announcement of the 2023 Snow Sculpture’s Awards!
The iconic Bon Soo Button will get you in to over 100 events for free! It costs $10 and all proceeds go towards making Bon Soo the most enjoyable experience for all! Click here to see where you can pick up your Button!
By Sault Tourism
Sault Ste. Marie is a true winter paradise with so many outdoor activities to choose from. We have one of the highest vertical downhill ski hills in Ontario, over 150km of incredible cross-country Skiing, an abundance of stunning snowshoe trails… Plus we have beautiful woodland skating trails, a new snowmobiling day loop, groomed fat biking trails and Sault Ste. Marie has some iconic, and awe-inspiring ice caves. This winter visit Sault Ste. Marie for your true winter experience.
Getting to Sault Ste. Marie is easy too with several flights a day from Toronto, Sudbury and Thunder Bay and rental cars waiting at the airport. And course you can drive on the Trans-Canada highway, which is well maintained over the winter months.
Big vertical, rugged terrain, Searchmont Resort has some of the best downhill skiing in Ontario. And… new snowmaking equipment has meant a November 24th opening day, the earliest start in recent times!
On top of the 703 feet of vertical, 26 runs, 100 acres of rolling mountain, terrain park, 4 lifts, snow school, Searchmont is also a fully equipped resort with a restaurant, bar, shop, ski and snowboard rentals and accommodations. Escape the crowds and the lift queues of jam-packed southern Ontario ski hills and get away to this stunning, adventure-packed mountain.
If you like your vertical off the beaten track, check out the incredible backcountry skiing at Bellevue Valley Lodge.
Sault Ste. Marie offers some of the best cross country skiing in North America. Stokely Creek Lodge has 100km of trails, groomed for both classic and skate skiing and spread over 12,000 spectacular acres of the Algoma Highlands.
Breathtaking scenery including frozen lakes and waterfalls, endless forests, and amazing vistas like the one at the top of King Mountain, make Stokely a bucket-list destination for nordic skiers. Enjoy Scandinavian lodging and stay warm in one of the six warming huts along the way; it’s an experience that will bring you back year after year.
Situated just 10 minutes from downtown, Hiawatha Highlands offers more than 50km of beautiful skiing in towering Pine forests. Click here for a link to all trail and maps or read more about all that Hiawatha Highlands has to offer! Top-tip: enjoy a nighttime lantern ski, which happens a few times a season!
Snowshoeing is one of the best ways to experience winter in Sault Ste. Marie. We have well-marked and beautifully scenic trails all over the city, including at Hiawatha, Crimson Ridge and Stokely Creek.
We also have some expert tour guides who can not only show you the way, but can also provide information about the area and its cultural significance… you may even be treated to a cup of hot chocolate 😉
Check out our Tours & Guide page for all the info!
Sault Ste. Marie has a new day loop for riders! The Soo Highlands Loop starts in the city and goes north to Searchmont and the surrounding area. Sledders can explore the natural beauty of Algoma Highlands, and its rugged landscapes just north of Sault Ste. Marie, in this 169 km loop.
Sault Ste. Marie is on its way to becoming an epicentre for Fat Biking, one of the fastest growing winter sports.
The Soo has perfectly groomed trails to the north of the city at Hiawatha Highlands and Crimson Ridge. Enjoy some challenging elevation in the beautiful Hiawatha forests as well as the picturesque trails at Crimson Ridge.
Downtown, the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site has easy fatbike trails for use on St. Marys and Whitefish islands, adjacent to the St. Marys Rapids. In addition, the St. Kateri Outdoor Learning Centre has around 3.5 km of fat biking trails.
Sault Ste. Marie has a number of some skating rinks and trails, all within a walk or drive of downtown. For a truly magical an unexpected experience check out Crimson Ridge’s stunning 1.1km lit trail winding through the forest.
Lake Superior’s phenomenal ice caves are a sight to behold. Enigmatic, unpredictable, subject to nature’s whims, but wholly worth it, these incredible structures will leave you speechless. They form in mid-winter when wavy conditions followed by a deep-freeze sculpts the rugged Lake Superior coastline into caves and chasms of blue ice.
Stokely Creek Lodge and Forest The Canoe offers guided day trips to the best ice caves, including transportation, crampon-equipped snowshoes and a snack. We do recommend you use a local guide with experience of the conditions as walking on ice can be dangerous.
After a day in the snow and ice you’ll want to refuel and recharge, and we have some great restaurants serving some fantastic food to warm you right up!
From Syrian Shawarma to spicy Indian, delicious Italian or sizzling steak, the Sault has so many great restaurants.
By Tourism Sault Ste. Marie
Forest The Canoe are offering a variety of guided tours to see some of the best fall colours in Ontario. The True North Adventure Bus has full day, morning and evening guided tours running in September and October.
Witness the stunning fall colours you’ve seen on Instagram. Paddle beautiful inland lakes. Hike up the iconic Robertson Cliffs to witness a stunning vista of autumn colours that stretch as far as Lake Superior.
Contact experienced tour guides Forest The Canoe to see some of the most beautiful fall colours in Ontario. Ride the True North Adventure Bus this fall, with daily tours departing from Sault Ste. Marie.
Four fall colour tours are offered on the True North Adventure Bus, each a truly unique adventure, and a each chance to see and explore a different part of Northern Ontario. Tours last a full day, a morning or an evening with pick ups from local hotels in Sault Ste. Marie throughout the day.
Sit back and enjoy the drive, that’s all you’ll have to do with the True North Adventure Bus. Expert, certified tour guides Ryan and Shana provide informative narration to help you get the most of your experience. Enjoy your day with all the quality equipment and safety information you will need.
No matter where you’re from, where you currently live, or where you visit, a sunset anywhere is beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, a fact we all know, but what might sometimes be easy to take for granted, is how lucky the residents and visitors of Sault Ste. Marie (and area) are to be able to witness this phenomenon so frequently. Throughout each of the four seasons, and especially over the big lake, we are truly fortunate and blessed to have such easy access and the ability to witness the colours of the rainbow throughout the entire sky, as the sun rises and sets all year-round.
I may be slightly biased, seeing as though the “big lake” is so close to where I live and grew up, but I think a lot of people who live and visit here would agree, a sunset over Lake Superior just hits different.
Sometime early in the pandemic, and after the loss of a loved-one who was dear and near to me, I started taking (almost) weekly drives “up north” on days when I thought I might get the chance to witness, enjoy, and capture something colourful (and potentially remarkable) on my camera to share with the people in my life who might not wander too far from town as often as I have been able to. It was enough of a brief and temporary escape from town each week when going much further wasn’t much of an option for me.
After months of putting on way too many miles on my leased vehicle, burning gas I could have conserved a little bit better, and taking hundreds of pictures just to post a few, a friend of mine asked me, “why drive all that way just for a sunset every week?” I sat and thought about it for a while, and a few things came to mind.
For one, why not? In a time that felt dark and uncertain for a lot of people, it made me (and most of the people I had the opportunity to share them with) happy, as the sun and the lake often do, and it was an escape from the city to some of my favourite places in the Algoma Highlands, and in a way, it made me feel closer to the people that I had lost; it was, essentially, my church.
Two, if you are from here, you know that our winters can be long most years and any chance to enjoy the sun can be enough to change your mood and day completely, even for those residents and visitors that love to play around in the snow and make the most of the colder seasons.
Finally, no two sunsets are alike, and it’s always beautiful to watch each day end differently, whether it was bursting with colour or a little gloomier on the cloudy days. At times, even when the weather was a little darker and greyer, or a storm was rolling in (or had just passed), those days still managed to put out some of the nicest sunsets that I have been able to capture on camera and witness with my naked eye; beautiful sunsets often favour cloudy skies and are brighter after a storm passes by.
What makes it different for those who live and visit any area in the northern part of Algoma and who stay close to the Lake Superior coastline, is how those sunsets appear over Lake Superior. If you’re lucky enough to catch one on a calm day, the mirror-effect from the lake in-front, above and below your eyes is bound to make any good or bad day end better, and although brief, they’re unforgettable moments.
We often stop and notice those aw-inspiring phenomenon like seeing millions of stars when you’re away from city lights, rainbows after a storm, the rare sight of the northern lights dancing in the sky, and depending on the kind of person that you are (the early birds), you might be more likely to catch sunrises, which can also be really beautiful but not entirely the same. We have a bad habit of becoming complacent to the things and opportunities we might see or have access to more often than the rest and sometimes we let those moments pass us by (or we pass them by), even unknowingly and unintentionally, but if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we should take nothing for granted.
A sunset, is a thirty to sixty minute period of time where you can sit, watch, and take in the beauty of the ever-changing colours of the sky (that often become more brilliant after the sun sets below the western horizon), and be thankful that you had the opportunity to watch one more day come and go as well as having the opportunity to live (or visit) where you do, even if the summers are short and the winters can be long.
If you’ve never had the opportunity, or do not often go out of your way to take the short drive and adventure north to watch one, I highly recommend that you do, any chance that you get, whether it be alone or with friends and family you enjoy spending your time with. Over a decade or so ago, I met a (non-local) man who said something to me that I’ll never forget, he said “You’re lucky you live where you do. God put the mountains in the west, the oceans in the east, and put them both together right here in Northern Ontario, and you get to watch some of the most beautiful sunsets fall over all of it.”
Some of the best places to capture sunsets north of Sault Ste. Marie and against Lake Superior (within 30 minutes to 2.5 hours north): parts of Goulais River, Havilland Bay, Harmony Beach, Batchewana Bay (that face west), Sawpit Bay, Mamainse Harbour, Alona Bay, Montreal River Harbour, and the western-facing parts of the Coastal Trail in Lake Superior Provincial Park.
The timing of a sunset varies throughout the year; you can look up what time the sun will set on a weather app or by using a sun calculator app online. Please note, that the poles are slightly titled, meaning the sun tends to set close to the northwest in the midsummer, and the southwest in midwinter, the exact direction of the sunrise and sunset is determined by the latitude and the time of year.