Saskaloppet – looking back 40 years

Valerie G. Barnes Connell Jordan/Northern Advocate. Terry Allen Helary, the Late Don Allen’s daughter, visits with participants preparing to start the overnight Kupesewin, Rob and Nancy Howse, only missed one since the beginning, and Dave Bober.

Don Allen, a young guy from the Prairie city of Weyburn, came to La Ronge on a fishing trip, and never looked back. He said, he was not going back, and remained for the rest of his life.

After marrying Ida Elizabeth Charles of La Ronge, they raised their three children, Lyle, Terry and Vern, living between La Ronge and English Bay, a community north of La Ronge. They ran a fishing camp for some years before going to work for the provincial government.

“We were moving to town and my dad was quite concern what they were going to do to keep us kids busy and out of trouble,” Terry Allen Helary said, in an interview with the Northern Advocate.

As his children grew, he wanted something for them that was healthy; he explored options and it came together in cross-country skiing.

While there was a ski club in town, it was more for adults with events that involved people skiing to someone’s cabin on a Saturday.

“My dad wanted to get into some serious skiing and there were no trails up here,” Allen Helary explained.

Her father researched trail creation and other aspects of skiing and visited other ski clubs that had trails.

He explored track setters in other communities, came home and with the help of another man, they made and welded a track setter.

They engaged with the ski club to purchase a large snow machine, “I think,” she said.

They set trails and Allen got his younger two children out into the bush marking cutting and creating trails.

They cleared the trails, in the summer months out by Nemeiben, to begin and carried on from there, keeping them fairly narrow to discourage snowmobilers from using them, and extending them to much as they remain today.

[We were] “actually clearing the trails and there was nobody else helping at that time. There was my Dad and Vern and I.”

Later on others helped and then Allen, with Parks and Social Services Departments organized a work project and “hired a bunch of people to go out and actually be clearing all those trails.”

As Terry and Vern got older, they competed in races across the province and later, nationally.

The ski club in La Ronge was not registered with the Saskatchewan Ski Association, the forerunner to Cross Country Saskatchewan, so skiers from the club were not eligible to participate in much of the racing opportunities.

“When we wanted to become races, the La Ronge Ski Club had to be registered underneath the Saskatchewan Ski Association,” she said.

Allen worked hard and was instrumental in getting the club registered and in developing a race team within the club. The La Ronge Nordic Ski Club has a strong race team to this day.

His children also began to ski in longer event, like a Loppet, where other races had been shorter. T

“My Dad wanted to have ski races up here because, he said we have the most beautiful ski trails in the province. And so, they lobbied to get a ski race up here.”

Later “my Dad wanted to have a Loppet up here.” Allen Helary said.

Allen was active in bringing that idea to fruition, and the Saskaloppet became a reality in March 1983.

Sadly, Allen, died at 48, Feb. 28, 1984, just days before the second Loppet, and shortly after some Ski Club folks made a decision to name the Saskaloppet after him.

Thus, the birth of the Don Allen Saskaloppet, named after a man of vision, determination and creativity.

As she looks back for 40 years of the Saskaloppet, Allen Helary, is happy the trails Allen and his family pioneered and the Loppet he envisioned, continue in much the same vein, her father inspired it to with trails covering much the same terrain as they did when they were first created.

Allen was also instrumental in getting the lighting in at the Nut Point trails,

And the Don Allen Saskaloppet celebrating 40 years, March 1 and 2.

“What’s most inspiring for me is to see that the trails that he made and found along with my brother and then, after that, the rest of the people that were interested in the skiing and being able to have nice trails for their kids to ski on . It brought that skiing community together where everybody was working to make beautiful trails. The fact that they’re still here and people are still interested in grooming them, keeping them beautiful is what, I believe, my Dad envisioned … that is really what is close to my heart, is his dream is still here and people are still loving the trails … it’s still the trails that he made and flagged and cleared and everything, the trails that are here today … I think that is all my Dad could have hoped for. The trails are still being used and maintained and provided for people to used.”

There were 300 registrations for the 40th Anniversary Don Allen Saskaloppet, with several cancellations because of weather.

Participants in the event, who also competed in the first Saskaloppet: Sid Robinson, Rob and Nancy Howse, Bruce Skilliter, Brenda Urton, Susan and Ted Gaudet, and Russ Mirasty.

George Searson has been a consistent volunteer throughout the life of the Saskaloppet.

The Saskalopppet began on Friday, March 1 with the Kupesewin overnight event with 11 skiers, two in the Sasquatch, which means they raced a longer distance carrying all their equipment, and eight in the Kupesewin Lite, travelling a shorter distance with their equipment carried up to the Summit for them.

There were around 150 skiers in the Mass start. Other events included the shorter trails for the youngest skiers at Nut Point.