‘Welcome to climate change’

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo Doug Swallow, president of the Hay River Ski Club, has noticed later-arriving snow over the years.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Doug Swallow, president of the Hay River Ski Club, has noticed later-arriving snow over the years.

Doug Swallow is again noticing a worrying trend as the skiing and snowshoeing season gets underway.

As in recent years, the president of the Hay River Ski Club is seeing snow arriving later.

“Welcome to climate change,” he said.

And Swallow said this year is particularly unusual.

“I have lived in Hay River for 27 years and there’s only been one other time that there was not snow at this time of year,” he said, meaning there’s really not enough snow to ski on the club’s trails.

While there is some snow covering the trails, there should be more at this time of year.

“We’ve had enough snow to ski by Oct. 15,” Swallow recalled of how things were in the past. “And we’ve had the Canadian biathlon team up here three or four seasons and we got it between Oct. 15 to Nov. 11.”

This year, the trails have a lot of ice, because the club packed them after one dump of snow.

“We packed it all down and now they’ve glazed over,” said Swallow. “The good thing is that will give us a good base when we get the next dump of snow but we need the next dump of snow because there’s not enough out there that we could cut a trail for classic. It’s good for skating but we need another big dump of snow.”

Along with less snow, the ski club president said he has seen temperatures gradually rise over his years in Hay River.

“It’s been getting warmer,” he said.

One way he knows that is because he has to keep track of temperatures for races, and if the mercury if -20 Celsius or below, a race has to be cancelled.

“We’ve had more race days,” he said, explaining the temperature is not as often -20 or below.

These days, a race may have to be postponed because of the temperature cut-off maybe once a year, most likely in December or January.

Swallow first arrived in the North in 1979 and lived in Norman Wells, Aklavik and Inuvik, where he was also involved in skiing.

Another skiing and snowshoeing season was officially launched in Hay River on Nov. 19 at the annual Snow Show.

“It’s an invitation to people to explore the ski club,” said Swallow. “So it’s an opportunity for people to sign up for membership for the different programs.”

Some snowshoers also took to the trails, but the only skiers spotted were biathletes close to the biathlon range.

Swallow predicted that more people might try skiing and snowshoeing this winter while the arena and curling rink are not available because of the reconstruction of the Don Stewart Recreation Centre.

“If they were getting their fitness from skating, then this would be a good alternative and it may even turn out that they like it better than figure skating or hockey,” he said.

Last winter, the club had 110 members.

One of those members was Jakub Olasinski, who was at the ski club on Nov. 19 to sign up his family for another year.

Olasinski said he and his wife and their two children skied for the first time two years ago.

“It’s just an opportunity to get out because it’s one of those sports where you can enjoy the outdoors and get moving,” he said. “We like that you can start doing it right away without previous experience. It’s easy enough to learn fairly fast how to move around.”

Olasinski also enjoys the ski trails.

“The trails are so well maintained and it’s such a nice topography,” he said. “So you have a little variety of flat terrain and there are some hills you can go down and there are some hills you can go up. It’s pretty amazing.”

–Paul Bickford