GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, NL – For years the Exploits Nordic Ski Club has operated out of an old woods camp, a situation Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Barry Manuel said was less than ideal.
Now, the town is investing $1 million into the facility, which includes a 7.5-kilometre ski trail, as well as a new snowshoe path.
While most of that money is going towards a new building currently under construction, some is also being spent to install lights to allow nighttime trail use. About three kilometres of lights have been put in so far.
“We all know that the evening closes in early in the winter so at 4:30 or 5 p.m. it’s getting dark,” said Manuel. “People who work have a tough time if it’s not the weekend to be able to use that facility. Now we’re going to be able to give people the opportunity to go down after supper or after-hours and to use that facility.”
The club is growing in memberships every year; four years ago, it had 20 members. By 2017 membership ballooned to about 450 people.
Dave Stoodley, spokesperson for the ski club, said this year the membership is at 397, but that will go up by approximately 80 members when schools start their winter activity programs.
The club has hired two part-time employees for the first time this year. With the increased interest in skiing and snowshoeing, the club needed someone available from 1 to 9 p.m. every day, and not just on weekends. The hut is used for renting equipment and as a place where people can stop in for a rest and coffee or hot chocolate.
“The kettle is always on,” Stoodley said.
The club is considering extending those hours into the morning to make it easier for people to purchase passes.
“Our rates are really low,” said Stoodley, adding passes in Grand Falls-Windsor cost about a third of what other clubs in the province charge. “We’d like for all trail users to have a pass.”
While the number of club members is expected to rise again soon, the weather has also played a role in the decline from last year.
“Everybody is frustrated with the weather,” said Stoodley.
But all is not lost; winter is only half over, he added. In previous years people have been skiing as late as April.
Between the increase in memberships and the broad range of people that use the trail – along with the fact that skiing and snowshoeing are healthy wintertime activities – it makes sense to make a large investment in the club, Manuel explained.
“It’s going to have such lasting benefits in the future for citizens,” he said.
The facility is also intended to be used year-round, with a biking trail that can be used in spring and summer being created, and the building itself used for various town-run events.
Manuel encouraged residents who haven’t made use of the trails recently to go check out the facility for themselves, weather permitting. He said the changes made so far are striking and there are more to come.
While the shell of the building has been constructed, there is still lots of work to do including electrical work required to finish lighting the trail and completing the building’s interior.
The project is over budget by about $90,000, said Manuel, because more land had to be cleared to create a parking lot, entryway and instructional area near the new building.
The club was hoping to move into their new digs by March, but a two-month delay in construction means it doesn’t look like that will happen, Stoodley said.
“We expect that facility … will be ready before this season is over. If not, if there are any delays, certainly at the beginning of next season we’ll have everything completed and ready to go,” said Manuel.