By Steve Hubrecht

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The ever-popular annual Whiteway Winter Challenge is back again this winter. If you were looking for an excuse to get out skating, cross country skiing, snow-shoeing or otherwise actively enjoying the Columbia Valley’s snowbound great outdoors, now you’ve got one. (Although, really, who needs an excuse to enjoy the local winter wonderland?)

The challenge, hosted by the Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club, began as one-day, in-person event back in 2020 and went well. A few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and put a great many of the valley’s events on ice. At first blush, as the next winter approached, Whiteway Winter Challenge organizers thought they may need to cancel as well, but then they realized that with some significant pandemic-friendly twists, their event could be on ice in a much different and much more literal way (i.e. with participants out on the frozen surface of Lake Windermere). So in 2021 the challenge morphed, allowing participants to track their own non-motorized progress around the Whiteway for a month, and the club collated and posted the results online. The collective total of all participants’ kilometres was plotted on a map of Canada, moving eastward from Invermere. They went so far that (graphically) they reached the Maritime provinces and extended out into the Atlantic Ocean.

That proved so successful that in 2022, the club expanded the challenge to two full months and included kilometres racked up by participants not only on the Lake Windermere Whiteway and the Lake Lillian Whiteway, but also at Panorama Mountain Resort’s Greywolf Nordic Centre and on the cross country ski trails at Nipika Mountain Resort. In 2022 the club plotted out the kilometres moving southward from Invermere. Challenge participants collectively managed 10,409 kilometres, which is enough to get close to Santiago, Chile if you stick to land or puts you smack in the middle of the South Pacific, if you head directly south in a straight line.

This year the same model is back again, with the 2023 Whiteway Winter Challenge officially kicking off on Jan. 1 and running until Feb. 28. People can sign up in teams or as individuals. For the next two months they simply keep track of how many kilometres they ski, skate, walk, run, snowshoe, or otherwise self propel on the Lake Windermere Whiteway, the Lake Lillian Whiteway, or the trails at Greywolf and Nipika.

“You just rack up as many miles as you can,” Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club communication director Dallas Husar told the Pioneer. “It’s not a competition, it’s a challenge. It’s about seeing what the group as a whole can achieve. The idea is to get people out and active during the winter months. It’s great for families, it’s great to do with a group of friends, and it’s great to do just on your own…It’s a really well received event. People say it actually does get them out, and they like the idea of having a community goal. We want to encourage that community spirit.”

Last year the challenge attracted more than 100 participants. “This year we would love to top 200. (Reaching) 300 would be even better,” explained Husar. “We haven’t selected an official distance goal this year, but still want to see how far we can move as a collective.”

The challenge is a nonprofit endeavour. Entry fees are minimal: $10 for an individual and $20 for a family or team, and all proceeds are used just to offset the costs of the event. There are plenty of prizes donated by local businesses.

“We are excited to see everyone out on the trails, enjoying the scenery and this incredible setting we get to play in,” said Husar.

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