Experiencing the North on Skis

In the early 1980s when Mike Gladish was working for the Canadian Weather Office, in Edmonton, he was given a choice between taking a job in Banff and taking a job in Whitehorse. He chose the latter.

“I had just gotten into cross-country skiing,” Gladish explains, “and I heard about the World Cup race that was held [in Whitehorse], and I heard it was a good place for skiing.”

He not only joined the Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club, but he threw himself into it and, as a result, Gladish has served as the manager of the ski club for 15 years.

He marvels at both how the club and his own job description have changed during this time.

Of his job, he says, “Now it’s full-time; it used to be 20 hours a week, four months a year.”

Of the club, itself, he says, “In the 80s, there were 300 members. That doubled in the 90s and it’s doubled again since then. Now there are around 1,200 members.”

Gladish is understandably proud of the club’s growth, but he is certainly not baffled by the success of the club. According to him, it all boils down to building and maintaining a high-quality network of ski trails.

“The [ski] club’s main product is groomed trails.” This refers to the process by which snow on the trails is packed and then set with ski tracks.

“We have made excellent grooming a priority,” Gladish elaborates. Today there are more than 75 kilometres of groomed trails to entice local fitness enthusiasts.

This diligence has been rewarded with national and international exposure for the ski club. Over the years, the Whitehorse ski trails have played host to a World Cup race, many Arctic Winter Games, the Canada Winter Games and, in March, Whitehorse will host the 2010 Haywood Ski Nationals.

Gladish is happy to list off all these events, but he is also conscious of how such high-level competitions might affect the image of the ski club. He is quick to counteract the impression that the club caters only to elite athletes.

“The competitions force us to maintain our trails, but the recreational skiers benefit from that as well,” he says. Gladish perceives this as a win-win situation.

With all the work that has gone into the ski trails, one might expect Gladish to jealously guard them against other possible uses; however, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“I am 100-per-cent supportive and encouraging of compatible uses,” he says. “It’s not just a cross-country-skiing enclave; it’s a community resource to last indefinitely.”

Aside from cross-country skiing, the trail network is used for snowshoeing, disc-golfing, orienteering, mountain biking, running and hiking. But the benefits don’t stop there.

“It’s a great recreational resource, but it’s also a great wildlife habitat,” says Gladish. “It’s like Whitehorse’s ‘Stanley Park’ [in Vancouver] or ‘Central Park’ [in New York City].”

It’s clear that community development is a concept that is never very far from Gladish’s mind. And, refreshingly, his words seem to echo his actions. It all makes you feel a little bit sorry for Banff.

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