Phil’s trail

Cross-country ski culture thrives on the Avalon

Susan Flanagan
Published on February 4, 2014

Phil Graham loves to ski. In fact, he loves it so much he has almost single-handedly taken on the responsibility of revitalizing Pippy Park’s upper cross-country ski trails.

In November, Phil, with the help of Avalon Nordic ski club volunteers, gleefully dug out and groomed an eight-kilometre trail near Three Pond Barrens.

Using a small rented backhoe, Phil directed volunteers to remove rocks and cut back alders.

Credit for trail widening has to be shared with members of bikenl who do a tremendous amount of summer clearing work in order to ride the trails on their mountain bikes.

Later in the fall, Phil personally posted signage so that a skier can start at Allandale Road near the golf course and, following Phil’s arrows, ski the eight-km loop from Nagle’s Hill Road through the woods all the way to Groves Road and back.

Phil is in his 60s, and he’s fit. I know this because I run with him when there’s no snow on the ground. He’s faster than me despite the almost 20-year age difference, and he often medals in his age group.

Phil is an excellent example of a seasonal cross-trainer.

Although most people I know ski in the winter to keep in shape for running in the spring, I think Phil runs in the fairer months so he’s in shape to ski in the winter.

Phil, like many skiers on the Avalon, heads to Pippy Park or Butter Pot to ski. Ski rentals are available at both locations for a very reasonable rate.

There are several differences between Pippy Park and Butter Pot. No. 1, because Pippy Park is right in the centre of St. John’s, it is an extremely popular spot.

For that reason, serious skiers, including ski racers, often head a half hour out the highway to get in a real workout at Butter Pot.

There they don’t have to dodge as many obstacles, such as the snowshoers, walkers and dogs which are in abundance at Pippy Park.

That’s not to say Pippy Park is not enjoyable. It is immensely enjoyable.

It’s so enjoyable, in fact, that on a sunny day, you can hardly move in the trailer park.

So, what Phil wants to tell people is there’s more to cross-country skiing at Pippy Park than the trailer park area.

The trails continue for kilometres in the upper reaches of the park. Phil knows these trails well as he helped cut them when he first came to this province from Toronto 35 years ago.

“Years ago, we had tons of snow and thus didn’t have trouble with stumps. Now we do,” says Phil, who along with Jon Earle (co-owner of the Outfitters and active member of Avalon Nordic’s executive) has sought all the permissions needed to open Pippy Park’s upper trails to skiers.

And Phil understands — like Paul Johnson understood when he started the Grand Concourse Authority — it’s not just about building a trail. It’s also about maintaining it.

One of the challenges is the expense of grooming this new trail. In Butter Pot Park, for example, park manager Keith Brown, a provincial government employee, gets up insanely early on Saturday mornings to groom for the ski classes.

Brown and his assistant, Robert Nurse, use Avalon Nordic equipment to groom the Butter Pot trails. Jeff Bannister, who is the provincial park planner, works closely with Avalon Nordic and Avalon Nordic members are grateful for the support shown by the provincial government.

Now Phil and Avalon Nordic are hoping to establish a similar agreement with the powers that be for Pippy Park.

As of now, the Grand Concourse Authority grooms Pippy's trailer park and the walking trails it is responsible for, but they would have to charge $500 a day to do the upper trails, which is cost prohibitive for Avalon Nordic as the club doesn't charge anyone to ski the trails.

“We’re hoping to have use of a Ski-Doo and groomer,” says Phil. “We’re working with Pippy Park for approval.”

“Pippy Trailer Park is busting at the seams,” says Colin Taylor, president of Avalon Nordic.

“Four to five thousand go through the trailer park through the rental and school program,” he says. And those figures do not include those who bring their own skis or snowshoes. “Reclaiming those (upper) trails will alleviate some of the stress.”

In Butter Pot on a Saturday in January, 75 children showed up to take part in the jackrabbit program.

The program is usually capped at 60 but with help from members of the provincial ski team, Avalon Nordic has yet to turn anyone away.

Taylor, who, like Phil, helped trail blaze when he was a teenager, says his goal is to establish a university ski team here in the province.

“We’ll work with Grenfell for a varsity team,” says Taylor. “The west coast has more snow and more coaching resources,” he says. “Cross-country skiing is a good fit for Grenfell.”

Right now, if a teenager in this province excels in cross-country skiing, they have to leave the province in order to continue.

“In 17 and under (competitions) we often get in the Top 5 in the country,” says Taylor. “But after that, we tank.”

Taylor gives the example of a teenage girl from St. Anthony who came sixth and eighth in the country in ski racing. But when she finished high school, she didn’t want to leave the province for university and Grenfell doesn’t have a ski program, so a promising career was cut short.

Avalon Nordic works with Outfitters to provide a masters ski program on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings.

The program is called the Effective Nordic Development (END) course and runs from November to March with roller skiing and fitness training. If there’s not enough snow on the ground to ski, you might find Phil and the END group at The Works strengthening their core muscles in order to be in better ski condition.

But when the snow is on the ground, you won’t find Phil or the rest of the skiers anywhere but on the trails.  

If anyone is interested in the END

program, please email:

For children’s lessons at Butter Pot or volunteering on the trails, go to the website:

Membership fees for 2013-2014 are as follows:

Family membership $120

Adult individual $80

Student individual $50

Senior individual $70

Junior Development Program lessons and associated fees:

Bunny Rabbit (4-5 years old) $50

Jack Rabbit (6-9 years old) $50

Track attack (10-12 years old) $60

Challenge group (13-18 years old) $150

Families registering more than one child in the Junior Development Program can avail of a $10 discount for each additional child.


Susan Flanagan is not a gifted skier. Something about four extra wooden appendages seems to baffle her brain. She can be reached at