Is cross-country skiing a suitable activity for seniors? Fred Bamber would day yes.
Fred will be 84 in April. He started skiing in the 1960s while working for Parks Canada at Banff National Park.
But it wasn’t a recreational pastime. In the winter, Parks staff ran regular patrols in the back country, and the best way to get around was on skis.
“In the wintertime, that’s all we did,” he said. “That was going into the different cabins making sure they hadn’t collapsed or burnt or something. We did the skis in the winter, and in the summertime we were on horseback. In the mountains, with normal snow levels, if you’ve got skis on you’re okay.”
Fred grew up on the family farm near Cherry Grove, and worked for the federal government as a crash-rescue firefighter at RCAF Station Cold Lake for three years. The US had regular flights of refuelling planes into Cold Lake, and Fred’s assignment was supporting those American operations.
He said the regular US activity changed after a fire burned down their main administration building.
“They had a habit of putting Varsol on the varnish on the floors because they were too slippery. Somehow somebody lit a cigarette and burned the thing almost to the ground,” he said.
He was offered a transfer to Vancouver, but he had seen a Public Service notice looking for able-bodied men to work in the mountain parks. He put in for that, and within a couple of weeks he was hired and on his way.
“It was a good job in wintertime, I was out on patrols a lot. My wife used to get so mad at me. But all in all, national parks were great fun,” he said.
He did suffer a skiing injury on the job, at the Sunshine ski hill. There was a small, steep dip in the trail, and the bottom of it was filled with powdery snow. Fred skied down into the dip, deep into the snow, and ruptured his Achilles tendon when his skis hit bottom. It took three months in hospital for him to recover and rehab.
His career with the parks took him all over the mountain parks — Banff, Jasper, Waterton, Kananaskis — as well as to Pacific Rim park on Vancouver Island and Grasslands National Park near Cypress Hills.
After he retired he returned to the farm. He has fond memories of his time with Parks Canada. “It was a good career. I wouldn’t want to miss it for the world,” he said.
And it instilled a lifelong love of clean snow and fresh air. Fred still skis almost every day, enjoying the local trails and the occasional thrill of a “free ride” down a hillside.
“There are some steep hills here, but not many. There’s a couple I could show you here. In fact, I like them because they’re sort of an exciting thing,” he said.
He likes the activity and exercise, but also the social aspect of skiing. He enjoys meeting the other skiers, who know him affectionately as “Uncle Fred.”
“I’m a people person, and I like being with people—as long as they’re being good people!” he said.