It’s barely 7:30 a.m. on Sunday morning when Richard Koch has already done several laps of the circuit.
He drove a snowmobile and dragged a groomer behind, completing the route several more times before 10 a.m.
He was preparing the snow for another day of heavy use by cross-country skiers.
“I would say our skiing population here is three to four times as many [as last year]. It’s incredible,” he said.
He’s a volunteer with the Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club. It maintains close to 100 kilometres of trails – including Eb’s Trails, near Prince Albert – and largely relies, Koch said, on membership fees and donations to do so.
The sport’s popularity exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. When asked how busy the trails are this year, his answer includes the word “freeway.” He told Global News the club has added a second classic-style cross-country ski tracks to accommodate the increased use and necessary physical distancing.
So many extra skiers means the trails need much more maintenance. Koch and his team only groomed the runs a few times last season. Now they’re out every day.
Luckily, many more people have joined and donations have more than doubled. According to Koch, membership rose form 654 in 2019/20 to 1,099 as of Jan. 7 and donations increased from $2,810 to $6,234.
“It just shows you that people care, and that is so important,” he said.
The ranks of the grooming team rose from two to six this year, and that doesn’t include the other volunteers who ensure the trails aren’t patchy or the woman who picks up pinecones, in case one gets caught in a track and a skier hits it and falls.
Angela Brooks and Lisa Leibel are also on the Wildwood trails this morning. They both just started cross-country skiing, besides trying it in high school, and say they plan to keep going even after the pandemic is over.
“It’s just so peaceful out,” Brooks said.
“We normally go first thing in the morning so you get to see the sun come up.”
“I’ve fallen a couple times. It’s definitely been interesting when you take a tumble,” Leibel said, laughing.
Koch said he’s thrilled to see more people skiing and volunteering and he hopes they keep skiing.
“Hopefully this experience, and helping maintain the [ski] tracks for them, has given them a good, an experience so they’ll want to come back again.”
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