Over the last two years, there has been a surge of interest in cross-country skiing, especially among the 20- to 30-year-olds.
The chalet is a very busy place at all times of the day: Jackrabbit numbers have doubled to over 100; the squad programs of the Yukon Ski Team are overflowing. And the kids are having a lot of fun doing an activity that used to be “uncool” because it was just hard work and no glamour.
People ask me every day, “What’s going on? Why are so many people skiing? Why has the club grown so much over the last 15 years.”
A lot of credit has to go to the early builders: Jim Boyd, Dave and Irene Brekke, Father Mouchet, Barb and Mike Phillips and Selwyn Hughes and others initiated the trail system in preparation for the ’72 Arctic Winter Games.
And families, such as the Sumaniks, Waterreus, Meekins, Schiffkorns, Henckels, Steeles, Watts, Heilands, Frasers, developed the trails and facilities to support the TEST ski program and a series of national races through the 70s. Trail lights were installed in the mid 70s and the first professional coach was hired in 1978.
The TEST program used the network for training and competitions, and the program became very successful in Whitehorse as well as in other Yukon communities. At that time, recreational skiing wasn’t really encouraged and it was just starting to become popular in Canada in the early 70s.
The early builders had a vision of a multi-use winter recreation facility that would include the old Roundel Hill for downhill skiing, plus a biathlon range, a ice skating rink, a ski jump and so on.
Roundel Hill had been established in the 50s, so the area already had a ski history. The hill had a rope tow and lights and was a popular spot for military families. The TEST Tracks, as they were once known, became the focal point for cross-country skiing. Roundel Hill became Telemark Hill in the 80s when it was revived as a teaching hill for Telemark skiing.
Those of us who now enjoy the convenience of the Mount Mac trails can thank those early builders who chose the location, but we can also be thankful that the trails were established at a time when the land was open and available for trail development.
When I moved here, in the fall of ’81, the Chalet was already built. Families previously mentioned, as well as Des Duncan, Merv Miller, Peter Densmore, and many others, of course, helped to build the Chalet. Government funding and local businesses provided the support needed to complete the million-dollar structure in time for the World Cup, in 1981.
Since then, over a period of 30 years, the trails and facilities have been tweaked and improved on, Whitehorse has grown in population and the club has put a lot of effort into two things: well-groomed trails and the promotion of recreational skiing and competitive skiing.
A few other factors have also helped to encourage the growth of cross-country skiing in Whitehorse. We are lucky to have consistent snow, even though it’s sparse a lot of the time. We have a growing population of active, outdoors-oriented people. And the chalet and trails are convenient to use.
The growth of interest in youth programs has also been fuelled by excellent coaching (both volunteer and professional), the success of the national team skiers and the success of our own Yukon team skiers at the national level.
All of those factors add up to a quadrupling of the club’s membership since the mid 80s. The early vision of a multi-use winter facility has evolved over those 40 years to become a multi-use, year-round facility.
A speed-skating oval has come and gone with a peak in the early 90s. Biathlon has become a fixture in Whitehorse on the other side of the Yukon River, where an excellent facility was developed. The TEST trails became known as the “ski” trails and then the Mount Mac Trails. Winter use has become year-round use.
Now we think of the whole area, not just the trails, as a community resource used by mountain bikers, orienteer-ers, runners, hikers, disc golfers and many others.
Mike Gladish is the manager of the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club. Contact him at info@xcskiwhitehorse or 668-4477. Or you can visit the website at www.xcskiwhitehorse.ca.