They kept barging into the Hay River Ski Club lodge with a simple question: “When are we going to ski?”
The snow bunnies (aged three to five) and jackrabbits (aged six to 10), approximately 15 of them, were all bundled up and ready to go. There was a palpable excitement in the air, and some impatience, of course, as adults tried to get ready as quickly as they could.
The children were out for the second time this season on Dec. 16, and it would have been their third had it not been for the Siberian-like temperatures on the Dec. 7-9 weekend. The club’s self-imposed cut-off is -25 C when factoring in the wind chill.
The skiers were split into two groups: the younger skiers practised slaloming around objects, while the older ones were still getting acquainted with using poles.
Tracey Pope is co-ordinator of the jackrabbit program.
She and Ellie Baxter, a past president of the Hay River Ski Club, showed the youngsters a Nordic skiing technique called double poling. It involves bringing both hands up to shoulder height, planting both poles into the snow and pushing.
While some techniques are taught to the older skiers, the emphasis is on fun and fitness in general.
“Being outside and taking advantage of this beautiful facility is what’s important,” Pope said.
She doesn’t have much of a skiing background, but she is an accomplished athlete, participating in just about every other sport there is. She arrived in Hay River last year from Fort Smith, where the jackrabbit program is popular.
“I met Bob and Susan White and they told me there was no program here, and hadn’t been one for years,” she said. “Then I met Ellie, who said I should start one. I just love to ski, so I kind of got talked into it.”
Sitelle Cheskey, a Frontier Foundation volunteer, just “fell into my lap,” according to Pope.
“She has a strong skiing background so she’s been so helpful coming up with ideas,” the jackrabbit co-ordinator noted.
Pope said she picked the weekly time – 1:30 p.m. on Sundays – because it coincides with the biathlon training nearby. She said the younger skiers look forward to being old enough to switch to biathlon at 10 years of age.
“They’re always saying how cool it looks,” she said of biathlon.
The skiers use tracks which have been kept in pristine condition by long-time volunteer Pat Bobinski.
“He’s been a phenomenal help,” said Pope. “He’s really dedicated to clearing the trails and even put in a new hill for us close to the ski club.”
In fact, there are more than 20 kilometres of groomed trails around the area for snowshoeing and skiing enthusiasts, including 10 kilometres of lit trails.