If I Could Ski With the Animals …

I could put it off no longer.

Since work began on our trail (thank you Chris and Cole!), I could think of nothing but cross-country skiing. In my mind, I would ski every day, check in on the animals and get some sunlight in this, my first full Yukon winter.

By December, we had volunteers skiing every week. They helped set the trail and identified improvements (thank you!), but we needed more snow. One other tiny challenge: I didn’t own skis.

Luckily, Christmas brought skis and January brought snow. The trail was, once again, taking shape, and I was on a plane back to Ontario. Sigh.

And so, somehow, February arrived and I had done little but drive my skis back and forth from home.

Every weekend, more and more people came to the Preserve to ski. By all accounts, it was great. Everyday, my to-do list and I would declare “tomorrow, for sure tomorrow.”

But last week, I could no longer watch from my office window.

It was another glorious day. Staff had just returned from breaking a “backcountry” snowshoe trail for a Wood Street Centre visit, and they were both excited and exhausted. They raved about all the snow in the back hills and, as we often do at work, the view.

I changed my clothes and rushed for my skis. I ran to the start of the trail, got ready and, well, waited. I hadn’t taken a step and was already sidetracked by the animals.

The bison looked up a mere second before returning to their food, but the elk gave me a look I am sure meant scepticism. They had reason to doubt, I had skied cross-country four times in my life; the first time was in Girl Guides.

Recognizing I was not ready for the top loop, I was determined to complete the bottom one. A relatively flat trail passing by the elk, bison and mule deer, as well as some sheep and muskoxen … it was wonderful!

For most of its length, the ski trail tucks in close to the fences, offering terrific views of the animals. With the temperatures we’ve been having, the spectacular sunshine and the gorgeous, snow-capped mountains in the distance, it was breathtaking.

Not totally capable of wildlife viewing and skiing at the same time, I stopped often to stare. In winter, the animals are spectacular in their winter coats, but are at times sedate to conserve energy. With these mild temperatures, many have become very active and it was really fun to watch.

The young muskoxen chase each other throughout the day, as do the mule deer. For hours, the caribou and elk use their hooves to dig for grass, and the sheep and goats frolic along the cliffs.

The animals were close, the view spectacular and, despite a few wobbles, no falls.

Today, when the sun was shining and the sky was blue, I went skiing.

I’ll hit that to-do list tomorrow, for sure tomorrow.

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