Houston’s cross country ski club looks back over their 25 year history of serving the community.
Frank McDonald, 1988 President of the Morice Mountain Nordic Ski Club, says a lot has changed in the last 25 years – cabins have moved, membership has grown and grooming has really simplified.
The ski club, incorporated in 1987, was an idea born by Sam Wright, who applied for the first government grants and gave the initial push to get the club started, said McDonald.
McDonald became president in 1988, and 1988 to 1989 were the two main construction years, where they build most of the cabins, including the Alpine Cabin, he said.
Back then they had 40 kilometres of trail, made but since then they’ve downsized to 25 kilometres, said McDonald.
“We overachieved,” he said. “We found it wasn’t practical to maintain that much trail with our membership and the cost of fuel.”
It was even more difficult because they used to make and maintain trails with a twin track snowmobile, and McDonald says it was slow backbreaking work and almost impossible to keep up.
They had to go around and around to make a wide enough trail, and they pulled a tracker with a weighted-down grooved plate to make the ski tracks, said McDonald.
He says they bought a ten-foot-wide LMC no-cat in 1990 and pulled the drag around with that, and in 2004 they bought the Bombardier 400, which they still use now to groom the trails.
For several years around 1990, they did a lot of fund raising, including social nights and ski-a-thons where people donated and made pledges to the ski club so that they could put up lamp posts and light some trails, McDonald said.
He says they also asked different businesses for donations, and when they put up the lamp posts in 1992, they put signs on the posts to recognize those who made sizeable donations.
McDonald says Community Forests caused the ski club problems in the early years when it first started up, developing around the ski club because they were the only club in Houston who thought the community forest was a good idea.
The idea of community forest was that certain amounts of areas would be harvested and money would go to support community groups, but McDonald says it never was a true community forest because it was only used by ski club, and a little bit by the curling club at the beginning.
They took credit for things the ski club did and people thought the ski club was being built and funded by Community Forests, when really they weren’t, McDonald said.
He added that people often didn’t recognize that the ski club had tenure in the Morice Mountain area, because of all the signs that said “Community Forest.”
McDonald says that they’ve had lots of problems over the years with motorized vehicles in the non-motorized ski club tenure.
“It was an ongoing problem right from the beginning,” McDonald said.
He says they have had snowmobilers making a mess of trails and young people taking pickups on the trails in the summer when trails are muddy and really damaging the trails.
“The damage to trails is pretty much permanent,” McDonald said, adding that they even ripped down cable barriers he put across trails one year.
McDonald says they finally addressed the problem by talking to tow truck drivers and telling them to call the police instead of towing out the mud boggers.
They did some interventions with people caught, where they went before a public court of community members and RCMP, and did community service at the trails as a penalty, McDonald said.
Over the years, the ski club has hosted many social events and ski-a thons, and run a racing team and jackrabbits.
The racing team, 1987 to late 1990s, fielded up to 20 racers from atom to masters, including Ryan and Wallace Jenks, Ian McDonald and Tristan Sjoden, said McDonald.
They also hosted races and marathons with teams from surrounding communities, he said.
He says they didn’t have enough coaches to keep training children above age 14, so several kids started going to Smithers for training.
“That was the beginning of the end,” said McDonald, adding that the racing team tapered off after that.
Jackrabbits is another story.
McDonald says jackrabbits, a children’s ski program, was running before the ski club formed, practicing on the old three-part golf course and the Twain Sullivan field.
Last year Jackrabbits didn’t run because they didn’t have coaches but ski club President Kelly Favron says this year jackrabbits had 33 children, and he thinks it could double next year.
McDonald says looking back over the last 25 years he sees a dynamic group of people who have persevered over the years to build a facility with trails unrivalled across the north.