Future projects include Ice Dragon ice smoother, adaptive nordic ski sledge, and decreasing dog poop on trails

By Steve Hubrecht

The annual Whiteway report, compiled by the Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club and Lake Windermere Ambassadors, details a trend that many people had already reported anecdotally: self-propelled winter recreation boomed this past winter during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The report, which was presented to Invermere council this April, outlined that the nordic club saw memberships nearly double this past winter to 697, up from 354 the winter before.

The club and Ambassadors wrote in the report that “this year highlighted the importance of the Whiteway trail networks for our community.”

With the pandemic showing no signs of abating last fall, the Whiteway committee began planning its operations in late September. The lake froze in early December this year, and the Lake Lillian Whiteway was open by Dec. 20, and the Lake Windermere Whiteway followed on Jan. 1., with the report crediting the earlier-than-normal opening times to lighter grooming equipment purchased in the fall. Despite at least nine chinook-like events the committee kept the Lake Windermere Whiteway open until March 2, and the Lake Lillian Whiteway open until March 7.

The report outlines that the Whiteway saw more than 25,000 trail users this past winter, and received more than $13,000 in donations (brought in over the course of the season by the Whiteway Ambassadors, who are posted at the start of the trail by Kinsmen Beach and sometimes by Windermere Beach). A Whiteway clean-up in February helped remove 15 kilograms of waste.

“With the increase in traffic this season, we also saw an increase in motor vehicles accessing the lake. For the most part there was minimal conflict experienced, except for a few users, who were either unaware of or had disregard for the Whiteway. We had one event of vandalism to a sign, and benches moved from their location at Kinsmen Beach to a spot halfway down the lake. Our volunteers were able to repair the sign and the benches were found and recovered,” read the report.

Future projects that the nordic club is pursuing include procuring an Ice Dragon (an ice resurfacing machine), which would allow maintainers to make the ice on the trail smooth after melt events (which have a tendency sometimes to ruin the skating part of the Whiteway). “This product (the Ice Dragon) uses a propane heater, pulled by person power to melt the ice and smooth it out. This is a lower tech option to a Zamboni that doesn’t have the logistical concerns of weight and water supply,” the committee wrote in the report.

Another project for the future focuses on reducing dog turds on the Whiteway. “One complaint we heard loud and clear this season was the increase of waste found along the trails, particularly dog poop. For the past few years, we have been placing community benches at entrance points for the east side communities, to expand this partnership (next winter) we will be reaching out to those community associations to ask them to take on maintenance of a waste receptacle,” reads the report. “Providing more spots for waste to be deposited along with education is one way we hope to address this community concern moving forward.”

Still another future project, which will see the nordic club partner with the Columbia Valley Recreation Adaptive Society (RAD), aims to help make nordic skiing more accessible and open the Whiteway to a wider group of users. “In order to do this, RAD is adding an adaptive cross-country ski sledge to their inventory to be provided to adaptive users both living in, and visiting, Invermere and the surrounding valley communities,” reads the report, adding that funds for this have already been secured from the Columbia Valley Community Foundation and Kootenay Savings. “The Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club, the Panorama Adaptive Snow Society and the District of Invermere will work together with RAD to make the sit ski available for rent next snowy season. We hope next winter, COVID-19 protocols pending, to hold a public launch to introduce the valley to this fun and much needed piece of gear.”