The Whiskey Jack Nordic Ski club has been a staple in Charlie Lake on the Beatton Park Trails since the 80s, but until recently the club had been somewhat stagnant.
Two years ago things began to change, as the club added a significant portion of skiing area, now with about 15 kilometres of groomed trails available at the Beatton park location plus an additional classic space at Links Golf Course in Fort St. John.
President Eliza Stanford has been with the club for about 13 years and has seen it grow from about 30 members to 114 in her time.
Stanford said the membership for this season is “since I’ve been involved, definitely a record.”
“We know that there are a lot more people that are taking up skiing and moving to the community who ski and people getting back into it so it’s pretty exciting.”
A lot of that growth was the result of the new trail intuitive by the club two years ago, which has helped give skiers more options when they head out on the course.
“It’s [set up] in such a way that you can do a different configuration every time you go and never really [repeat it]. You don’t have to do the same 15k every time you go. There’s more easy trails, it’s a lot more fun than it used to be, there used to just be two loops and they were kind of narrow and they weren’t very interesting,” Stanford said.
Elke Haggerty, the club skills, program and coaching development coordinator added that cross-country skiing is a great way to get the whole family outside for some fun.
“A lot of activities involve taking one kid here and one kid there and before you know it you are pretty scheduled and the great thing about cross-country skiing is you are getting outside and you can all do it together and it’s not very expensive,” she said.
They also currently have two adult programs, chicks on sticks and stickmen, which are designed to help get certain demographics out on certain days or nights. “It’s great for fellowship as well,” added Haggerty.
And while people continue to take up the sport, some are hesitant to take on the commitment for a variety of reasons, which is why Stanford helped set up rentals to encourage more involvement.
“The big thing is getting skis on people, because a lot of people [just] want to try it out. We have a little set of rental equipment and it’s been enormously popular… it just gets people out there. It’s all about enjoying the winter and being active,” Stanford said, but added they only have seven sets of adult skis to rent out.
They also have an after school program for young skiers, which attracts more than 35 kids on certain afternoons.
The club is currently fundraising to build a storage facility in the hopes of getting a bigger grooming machine and would also one day like to have like to have a day lodge at Beatton Park.
“Right now we have all our stuff stored in a Sea-Can and it’s just not big enough,” she said. “We’re applying to get funds for more rental equipment for kids and the skis all need to go somewhere so we just need more space.”
With the day lodge, the experience would more than just a stop by and ski event.
“It becomes a gathering place and builds community. Community is what it’s all about,” Stanford said.
Last weekend the club had nine coaches participate in a weekend training seminar and hopes that they can get some on course experience over the winter in order to start a Jack Rabbit program aimed at promoting the sport to young skiers.
“[It] Builds their interest in skiing. In the bunny level it gets families involved and it’s nice to become a family sport that way,” Haggerty said.
“Also, what we’ve learned being coaches is there are certain periods of time in a child’s life when they are more likely to be able to learn certain skills. So if you can start young they can develop all these skills really well.”
At the end of the day the club really hopes skiers can just get out and enjoy themselves, ultimately making the harsh northern winters pass a little faster.
“It really does pass the winter, I remember last winter I thought ‘gee, all the snow is gone already?’” Haggerty said with a laugh.
The club will also be hosting free lessons from 1- 3 p.m. during High on Ice on Feb. 6 at Beatton Provincial Park.