Skied the Ochre River Trail over NYE. One might assume that the $85 one pays to book Cairns Cabin for a night might cover at least one pass with a groomer before the end of December, but one would be mistaken: apparently the Park doesn’t maintain these trails in winter any longer, and the volunteers had not been out yet. The posted trail conditions report claimed that Ochre River had been machine packed; however, that wasn’t very recently. We were determined to ski it, but based on the tracks we followed it seems most folks were wiser than us and hiked in towing sleds. We opted to walk up and down a few of the steeper hills as the trail is too narrow to effectively herringbone or snowplow. All the creeks were frozen solid enough for safe crossings, though there had been some over-ice flow on the largest stream, leaving sufficient slush to play havoc with ski bindings. Cairns was on the cool side in those -40something windchill overnight temps, but the wood is dry and plentiful.
Bottom line: if you want a pleasant, groomed classic ski in to a cabin for just price of your park pass, Spruce Woods or Turtle Mountain or even Madge Lake in the Saskatchewan Ducks is for you; if you want to pay considerably more for a proper slog of a backcountry adventure, Ochre River can deliver. I’ll certainly be back.