By Steve Hubrecht
steve@columbiavalleypioneer.com

The annual Whiteway Winter Challenge is back again this year, more expansive than ever. The popular event challenges Columbia Valley residents to propel themselves as far they can along frozen Lake Windermere’s iconic Whiteway skating and nordic ski path over a given time period. 

This year the challenge runs for two full months, through most of the winter, and is happening not only on the Lake Windermere Whiteway and Lake Lillian Whiteway, but also at Panorama Mountain Resort’s Greywolf Nordic centre and on the extensive cross country ski trails at Nipika Mountain Resort. The first Whiteway Winter Challenge was held by the Toby Creek Nordic Club in early 2020, a few months before the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic hit. The first challenge (which was a one-day, in-person event) was a big hit, drawing almost 100 participants to cross country ski, skate, or run around the lake. 

Then came the pandemic, so last year the club opted to alter the challenge, allowing participants to track their own non-motorized progress around the Whiteway for a month, and the club collated and posted the results online. This allowed the club to keep the challenge going, while also allowing people to follow pandemic protocols about social distancing. The second challenge was every bit as much a success as the first, as more than 80 participants collectively skied, skated, walked or ran enough kilometres in 2021 to stretch from Invermere to the Atlantic Ocean.

This year the club is tweaking the challenge yet again — increasing the event from one month to two, expanding it to encompass both Whiteways (Lake Lillian and Lake Windermere) as well as Panaroma and Nipika — and going for what Lake Windermere Ambassadors Program Coordinator, Shannon McGinty, termed a “hybrid model”. 

People still sign up as individuals or teams and set a goal to skate, ski or run as far as they can in the two months, but there will now be a few “community meet up” events, explained McGinty. These events will be spaced out, allowing for social distancing and other pandemic protocols, but will still give participants a chance to get out together and have fun. The dates of these meetups will be decided as the winter unfolds, and one is set to be an evening/nighttime glow-stick/headlamp ski and skate meet up.

“We found people responded well to the challenge last year,” McGinty told the Pioneer. “A lot of people said it was good motivation to get outside and get some exercise and fresh air during the winter. The days can be short and dark, and sometimes people get into a bit of a mental funk when they stay inside all the time. The pandemic probably makes it even worse for a lot of people. So, we as a club want to do what we can to get people outdoors and breathing that fresh air, and hopefully helping them stay a bit more positive.”

Extending the challenge to different ski areas “gives people more options in terms of places to go out and log those kilometres” and stretching it over two months simply made sense, said McGinty. “We wanted to have it go throughout the whole winter, but we know that sometime conditions in March can be quite variable when it comes to ice skating or cross country skiing, so we settled for all of January and February.”

The challenge officially started on Jan. 1, and 40 people or groups are already participating, but teams and individuals are still welcome to register and start skating or skiing at any time. 

As of press time, the Lake Windermere Whiteway was closed, owing to last week’s warm, rainy and slushy conditions, but all other locations were open. For more information visit: tobycreeknordic.com/challenge/