“If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.” – Anonymous

Nearly 40 people took advantage of the Bonnyville Nordic Ski Club’s (BNSC) open house at Muriel Lake M.D. Park on Saturday, and they all appeared to find joy in the snow. Many—perhaps most—of the skiers were beginners.

“We called it an open house, but really it was a chance to give people a free opportunity to try cross-country skiing,” said Les Parsons of BNSC. “There’s sort of this concern that ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m going to fall down’ or whatever. So our goal is to get people out and give them a taste of the sport.”

It was a gorgeous day with sunshine and mild temperatures, and Parsons said the M.D. parks personnel had the trails in “immaculate” condition. The club lent out 34 sets of skis, poles, and boots to people who wanted to give the sport a try.

The event attracted experienced skiers and novices of all ages: “from three to 83,” according to Parsons.

“We were so happy to see these minivans and SUVs with the families, with one or two or three or four kids. We had some seniors along and a few individual adults, so a real broad spectrum,” he said.

Local ski clubs including BNSC and its sister chapter in Cold Lake, and Lakeland Cross Country Ski Club in St. Paul, are committed to growing the sport at its grassroots. The emphasis is on recreation and enjoyment, but Parsons says that with a broad base there will be some competitive athletes emerging. 

The local clubs have teamed up with the Lac La Biche and Vermilion clubs to form Lakeland Nordic, a regional alliance dedicated to developing skiing opportunities across the Lakeland. Parsons says a short trip to a neighbouring community can be a perfect, inexpensive way to spend a winter day.  “There’s no charge to use all the trails in the Lakeland region. They’re all just free of charge for people,” he said.

And while skiing is a lifetime sport with no limit to how much a person can improve, it only takes one short instructional session to get you started. After learning the basics on Saturday, many of the skiers were able to enjoy a nice long run on the easy trails.

“Some of the small kids skied all the way up to lookout and back. So they went almost 10 kilometres, which is quite a marathon for little kids. And then some of the first-time adults also made it all the way up to the lookout and back.”

At the end of the afternoon, the skiers gathered for a campfire and snacks—all in all, a perfectly pleasant winter day. And for Parsons, who has coached in six Winter Olympic Games, it’s the simple pleasure of skiing that will keep people coming back.

“We’re looking at keeping these people skiing for life,” he said.

After a short instructional session, the skiers—some experienced, but most not—hit the trail. JEFF GAYE