“When I travel down south for meetings, other clubs are astounded and in awe of what we have here in Whitehorse,” said Claude Chabot, Executive Director of the Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club. “On our trails you can be cross-country skiing by moonlight, watching the magic of the northern lights dance over the Lower Valley trails and have the moment completely to yourself if you wish.
“We are currently sitting at 1,300 members – major centres in Southern Canada that are drawing from much larger population bases don’t even come close to memberships that size.”
Chabot credits the popularity of cross-country skiing in the Territory to a number of factors.
“In Whitehorse we get a six month ski season: October to May,” he said. “And we have access to almost 90 km of groomed trails on our doorsteps. The Mount McIntyre facility is only minutes from downtown and it never closes. In comparison, most clubs down south are lucky if they have 30 km of trails a half an hour drive away from a community that close at 4:30 in the afternoon.”
The nature of Whitehorse as a community also plays in to the ski club’s popularity.
“For a lot of people, living in Whitehorse is a lifestyle choice, and access to amazing cross-country skiing is part of that lifestyle,” said Chabot. “I moved here fifteen years ago for that very reason, and since the move my ski season has always started in October.”
That lifestyle choice helps produce some amazing talent.
“Last year Canada sent a team of sixteen ski racers to the under-23 world cup in Turkey and five of them were from Whitehorse,” said Chabot. “Whitehorse residents literally grow-up on cross-country skis, so it makes perfect sense that our race programs excel nationally.”
Past Yukon Olympians and current members of the senior national team hailing from Whitehorse back up this assertion.
That high level of athletic success doesn’t mean that only strong skiers comprise the membership of the Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club however.
“There is a misconception out there that you need to be a good skier to join the club,” says Chabot. “The reality is that 99 per cent of our membership is recreational skiers and it is this market we cater our services to.”
Chabot points to the club’s emphasis on grooming as one way they work to support novice skiers.
“We have a very dedicated base of volunteer groomers on snow machines and paid staff running our Pisten Bully (a large snow groomer that has just this year been upgraded) who are out at god-awful hours of the night – often around 4 am, since that is when the temperatures are best for the work – making sure our trails are in the best condition possible. The better groomed the trails are, the easier it is for new skiers to tackle them. In comparison, un-groomed areas, like Chadburn Lake, are technically much harder to ski and will prove a much greater challenge for novice skiers.”
The wax room in the Mt. McIntyre Chalet is another bonus for new skiers.
“We won’t bite,” said Chabot. “We’re there to answer questions and help people, and we’re happy to do so.”
On top of making sure someone is available in the wax room to help patrons out, the ski club also runs their popular Wax-and-Wine events throughout the ski season.
“Waxing always seems to intimidate or baffle new skiers, even though we’re lucky here in Whitehorse because often super blue will get you through,” said Chabot. “And so we like to provide as many opportunities as possible for skiers to learn and improve their skills.”
It’s not only in areas like waxing that the club can help you improve your skills however. Three ski schools operate out of the club – Aurora, Performance, and Stride and Glide – all of whom will be happy to provide lessons, regardless of your current level of technique. Young skiers can get involved in the Jackrabbits program and students in grade one and two get the chance through their classrooms to take part in the school-based programs which introduce young people to the sport, even if their families aren’t skiers.
“The most important thing is how much fun this sport is,” said Chabot.
If you haven’t given it a try yet, maybe this winter you should.
Amber Church is a painter, writer and sports enthusiast. You can reach her at [email protected].