By Stephen Petrick
For so many, the last two years of the pandemic has included our winters of discontent.
The COVID crisis, which we now know is worsened in winter, leads to shuttered schools, boarded up businesses, empty theatres and malls. But it’s also leading people, in the face of so much down time, to discover new leisure activities; ones that are safe, healthy and outdoors.
As a result, there’s been a boom in cross-country skiing, says Thom Lambert, the president of the Haliburton Highlands Nordic Trail and Ski Club Association. He says that in 2020-2021 the club saw memberships rise to record levels. This winter, it’s down slightly, owing, he suspects, to the lack of snow, but still high with 180 individual members and 120 family memberships.
He says other cross-country clubs in Ontario are experiencing similar rises and, on any given day, the parking lot attached to a well-groomed cross-country ski trail will most likely be packed.
“When I go to one of our areas, I see a parking lot with 40 cars in it; it’s people being outside, getting fresh air, not being in front of a screen. It’s something that gives us something to look forward to in this long hard winter.”
When COVID ravaged Ontario in the winter of 2020-2021, the Ontario government shut down numerous non-essential activities and many downhill ski resorts were closed. However, cross-country skiing routes were kept open, because they were considered safe, as the sport takes place outdoors and can be done with physical distancing.
The unintended consequence of that, Lambert says, is new people discovering and falling in love with the activity. He says the association’s Jackrabbit program, which is a series of weekly training sessions on Saturdays for young cross-country skiers, has more than 80 registrants this year, another record number.
“That speaks to the fact that families and young skiers are being exposed to the sport; some people are going to keep doing it,” he said.
Lambert, a cross-country skier with more than 40 years of experience himself, says he loves the sport because it provides great exercise in beautiful outdoor settings. Cross-country skiing, he says, doesn’t lead to the same type of joint pain that runners experience; people in their 80s can do it. Another one of its perks is that it’s affordable, given that it doesn’t take a heavy toll on equipment. A good pair of skis can last 30 years, Lambert said.
The Haliburton Highlands Nordic Trail Association has three trail systems that it maintains. As long as there’s enough snow on the ground, each is groomed to allow for the two styles of cross-country skiing: classic, the style which involves following two grooves in the ground, and skate skiing, which requires a wider path as skiers will be pushing their legs back and to the side, similar to skating as the name suggests.
The Glebe Park trail offers 13.5 kilometres, including 1.5 kilometres lit for night skiing. The trail is right in the village of Haliburton, off Fleming College Drive and is considered challenging.
Then there’s the 12.5-kilometre Moosewoods trail, which is off County Road 14, near Eagle Lake. It’s considered an “easy to intermediate” trail.
There’s also Twin Lakes, a seven-kilometre trail which is also considered “easy to intermediate” and “dog friendly.” It’s located on 12 Mile Lake Road off Hwy. 35, between Minden and Carnavon.
As of mid-January, the Moosewoods Trail was completely open, but parts of Glebe Park and Twin Lakes were closed, due to the lack of snow.
“We’re 10 centimetres away from having really good conditions,” Lambert said at the time.
But when the snow falls, the association’s army of volunteers begin to get the trails ready. Lambert says about 1,500 volunteer hours are put into making each season a success; that involves the almost daily task of grooming trails and keeping the membership system up and running.
A family pass for the season (which involves any combination of parents and children totalling five) is $275; an individual season pass is $145. The passes give access to all three trails. A day pass to use a trail is $15 for adults and $8 for children.
Lambert calls the day rate “the best deal in the world.”
The association takes pride in grooming the trails well and making sure they’re accessible, knowing that the Haliburton Highlands has a high senior population and people who need safe, enjoyable and reasonably priced fitness activities.
“These trails make Haliburton Highlands a better place to live, there’s no doubt in my mind,” he said.
For details on the Ski Club Association, visit www.skihaliburton.com.