The St. Albert Nordic Ski Club formed 44 years ago in 1973, when a group of St. Albert families banded together to turn our city’s winter trail system into a paradise for cross-country skiers. Though it started off with just a few families, the club has grown tremendously over the years and now offers services to hundreds of skiers throughout the city. But this public interest in the club didn’t come out of nowhere. According to two of the current club executives, Laurie Hunt and Ken Chin, all of the club’s popularity and success is owed to the hard work of their volunteer team.
All aspects of the club—from coaching to trail maintenance—are run by volunteers hoping to make wintertime in St. Albert a bit more accessible and exciting. For the most part, the accessibility comes in the form of skiing lessons. Every January, parent coaches and youth instructors begin to offer ski lessons for kids on a weekly basis. These lessons are affectionately called “The Jackrabbit Program,” and according to Laurie, this is one of the most popular aspects of the club, attracting more than 100 kids from around the city every year. Through the help of city funding and government grants, the Nordic Ski Club has been able to expand its programming to a wider audience.
“About 10 years ago, the Nordic Ski Club was able to acquire a lot of youth ski equipment for the kids to use during lessons. Those rentals have really helped parents out. They don’t have to keep buying new equipment every year as their kids are growing.”
In addition to its youth lessons, the club teaches adults as well. Drop-in lessons and workshops can help out-of-practice skiers sharpen their skills before they head out on the trails, and latecomers to the sport are able to get the fundamentals down and start developing skills of their own.
“In the past there has been a real focus on kids and families,” says Laurie. “Moving forward, we’re really trying to expand our adult programming to include adults that might want to ski socially or just develop some of those finer skills.”
For members of the club who have put in the practice and have developed the necessary skills, the club also plans excursions to trails outside of the city.
“A lot of club members take advantage of programs like our loppet training to prepare for some of these out-of-town events, like the Birkebeiner out in Elk Island.”
Loppets are essentially fun, long-distance races, and the Birkebeiner is one of the best in the world. During this event, inspired by a Scandinavian legend, participants ski 55 kilometres with heavy packs on their backs that approximate the weight of a young prince that was said to be carried to safety by skiing solders during a time of war.
The other side of the volunteer-run club is comprised of the maintenance workers. It might come as a surprise to learn that, unlike the majority of the city’s recreational infrastructure, the skiing trails of St. Albert are constructed and maintained by the Nordic Ski Club—not the city’s parks department.
“There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work when it comes to trail maintenance here in St. Albert,” says Ken. “Our volunteers wake up as early as five in the morning to break up the ice and re-form the trails.”
Though the trails don’t extend the entire length of the city quite yet, the Nordic Ski Club has already built an extensive system of trails throughout the city, and the city as a whole has benefited from the efforts. “We always welcome anyone who wants to get involved with the club,” says Laurie. “Whether they want to take on a planning role, a maintenance role or just get involved in lessons, we’re always eager to get new volunteers.” t8n
Eventually, the Nordic Ski Club would like to see a winter trail system that extends from one end of the city to the other, so that residents could head down to the river and then ski downtown to access the library, or even just to get a cup of coffee.
St. Albert Nordic Ski Club at a Glance
Location: 395 Sir Winston Churchill Ave
President: Katie Laviolette
Programs: Cross-country ski lessons for kids and adults
Interesting Fact: The ski club maintains all of St. Albert’s cross-country trails, and creates ski tracks for local schools as well.