It has been an odd winter, to say the least, in Newfoundland and Labrador. As we write this, it’s mid-January and most places on the island have little to no snow and warm temperatures are expected for the next two weeks.
It seems like the only place with any sort of winter is Labrador City.
We were recently there for a two-day Canadian Association of Nordic Ski Instructors cross-country ski instructor course and were taken with the scenic setting and beautiful log lodge.
The lodge was bustling with skiers by day and by night it was transformed into a fine dining room for a succession of Christmas parties.
“We are pretty much booked solid through the Christmas season with group parties, and it provides us with a good source of revenue,” club president Gerry Rideout said as we admired the way the lodge had been decorated.
“We are also known for having the best steaks in town.”
Boasting one of the longest cross-country ski seasons in North America, Menihek Nordic Ski Club is usually open by late October and skiing lasts until well into April, and even May in some years. The ski club was founded in 1975 and has held a wide variety of ski events.
“We have hosted everything from World Cup races in the early 1980s to becoming the national training centre for Canada’s team from 1984-88,” Rideout said.
“The club has also organized numerous Canada Cups, the National Canadian Championships, the National Masters Ski Festival, and other provincial and local events. This season is no different since our club is hosting the Newfoundland and Labrador provincial ski championships on March 19-20, 2011, and a week later we have the 36th anniversary of the PAL Great Labrador Loppet.”
Rideout is a big promoter of the club and much of its success is due to his hard work.
When we phoned the club to get an update on ski conditions on Jan. 10, program co-ordinator Rhonda Lawrence told me conditions were perfect.
“It is -6 C out and it is sunny with no wind. We have all 32 kilometres of trails groomed for classic and skating and you couldn’t ask for better ski conditions,” she said.
“Last week alone we had over 70 cm of snow fall and the temperatures have been so good for skiing that we are getting lots of people out to ski on our lighted trails at night.”
The club has an active jackrabbit group with more than 70 kids and the Grade 5 ski program is a real success.
“These children come for three sessions and we introduce them to the joys of cross-country skiing” Rhonda said.
The club also has ski rentals, a ski shop and ski lessons in both classic and skating technique.
The club has a nice mix of recreational trails. Bill Koch, the American who is given credit for having invented skating technique, had a hand in developing the 15 kilometre Koch Trail system.
He’s the 1982 World Cup Champion. The trail system consists of 15 km, 10 km, 7.5 km, 5 km and 2.9 km loops offering challenging up hills and down hills including the infamous Koch’s Delight and The Hole.
Or, if you would rather ski on gentler terrain, then the trail around Dumbell Lake is highly recommended.
And there is more development in store for the trails since they just received funding from ACOA and the provincial Department of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development.
“We were notified just last week that our proposal for $399,000 was successful and so we will be getting better grooming equipment, new lights for our night skiing trail, a new timing system to go with our new race building,” Rideout said.
“We are also going to be getting some upgrades to our lodge and we are going to add to our summer interpretative trail network. We feel this will solidify us as a major cross-country destination in Eastern Canada, not only for recreational skiers but also racers. “
As we prepared to return to snowless Corner Brook, Rideout said we should come back for the Great Labrador Loppet on March 26.
“The Great Labrador Loppet is a fabulous ski adventure between Fermont, Que., and Labrador City …,” he explained.
“(There are) three optional distances: 10, 27 and 54 kms. All are run concurrently on the same groomed course for skating and traditional classic technique. Some skiers race to win and some of the 225 skiers go for the fun and the adventure of the beautiful scenic Labrador wilderness, but at the end of the day all enjoy a barbecue and dance.”
Keith and Heather Nicol are avid skiers from Corner Brook. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org