The ski trails at Little Red River Park were put to good use over the weekend as the Prince Albert Nordic Ski Club held a race and a loppet.
Over 150 skiers participated in Sunday’s loppet, while about 100 took their turn around the race course Saturday.
A loppet is a gathering of skiers who ski on a specifically-groomed trail of various distances. The term originated in Scandinavia, from events such as the Mora Vasaloppet in Sweden.
Organizer Bill Jeffrey was pleased with the turnout, which saw skiers come in from across Saskatchewan, and even some from out of province.
“It’s really good to see,” he said.
“This year we’ve had more kids than I think we’ve ever had.”
Getting more kids involved is a good way to grow the sport, he said.
“You get the kids in and then you get the parents,” he said, adding that it’s good for the longevity of the local cross country ski scene.
Saturday’s event was one of the races for the Sask. Cup, featuring athletes from across the province racing for points. 1 km. 1.5 km and 4.5 km routes were set up for that race. Some of the older athletes did a 9 km race, completing the 4.5 km loop twice.
“We had kids as young as three years old right up to a guy over 71,” Jeffery said.
Racers came from Regina, Saskatoon, Humboldt, La Ronge, Sucker River, Hall Lake, Canoe Lake and elsewhere in Saskatchewan.
“Most of the racers stayed and came to the loppet (Sunday),” Jeffery said.
The loppet is the second largest in Saskatchewan. If it continues to grow, there’s a chance it could soon be the largest, Jeffery said.
This year, attendance may have been helped by a lack of snow elsewhere in the province. Near Regina and Saskatoon, for example, there hasn’t been much snow for skiers to enjoy. They’ve had to travel to Prince Albert or even further north to get out on the trails this year.
But the good attendance is also due to the reputation Prince Albert has for its ski trails.
“The trails in Prince Albert have always been some of the best in Saskatchewan,” Jeffery said.
“In the 1980s a lot of people came here to train.”
He said the trails in Little Red are known for being nice and narrow and protected from the elements, leaving skiers to swish through the snow alone as they speed through the trees.
Conditions were good this year too, with lots of fresh snow and warmer temperatures without much wind.
“If it could have snowed maybe a day or two before, the trails could have been set up a little better,” Jeffery said.
Many skiers had to break trail, labouring through fresh snow that had either blown or fallen across the course.
“Because it’s a loppet, a lot of people like to break trail. It’s really a nice feeling when you have a group of people and you take turns breaking the trail. Once you get in the bush there’s no wind. It’s a beautiful day, it’s perfect.”
Scott Fraser of Saskatoon was the first man to cross the finish line after the longest race, 35 km. He finished the route, which takes skiers across every trail in Little Red except for the skate trail, in two hours and 44 minutes flat.
Bryana van Leeuwen repeated as women’s winner at the long distance, finishing in 2:49:30.
But what Jeffery was most excited about was seeing how many kids and families came out for Sunday’s loppet, a sign of a growing sport.
“With our club, two years ago we had 180 members, now we have close to 400,” he said.
“That’s partly because of jackrabbits (ski club for 3-12 year-olds), but there seems to be a real enthusiasm with skiing. It’s a very inexpensive sport, it’s a family sport, you’re outdoors — there were a lot of families that were skiing today. That’s really good.”
Full results from the Sask Cup event and the 2019 loppet are available at zone4.ca.