How did the Hay River Cross County Ski Club evolve into the ski facility that it is today? The growth of the biathlon facility and regular trail systems, laid out around a cozy clubhouse nestled in the midst of a forest of spruce and aspen, traces an interesting and very northern history.
The first skiers in Hay River were recreational skiers who used Vale Island as an early site. They established trail networks throughout the spruce woods adjacent to Great Slave Lake. Later this group initiated a move out to a site 15 km. south of Hay River.This location provided the added feature of the elevated river banks and picturesque river valley skiing.
The Northwest Territories has a proud tradition of participation in cross country skiing. The T.E.S.T. (Territorial Experimental Ski Training) program which began in Inuvik in the early 70's developed young northern skiers who excelled at the sport. Twin sisters, Sharon and Shirley Firth, went on to become the most celebrated skiers in Canada's cross country skiing history.These athletes along with their Mackenzie delta team-mates formed the nucleus of Canada's national cross country ski team in their day. They represented our country in world championships and winter Olympic games. This inspiration percolated throughout the north and inspired ski club development in small settlements and larger communities alike. In the mid 1970's Sport North established itself, providing supportfor various ski development programs. The Arctic Winter Games came into their own at this time, doing much to encourage the development of skiing in the Northwest Territories. Hay River was the site for the cross country ski competition in the 1978 Arctic Winter Games.
Classical ski trails up until the early 1980's meant for a later start to the season in those days since so much of a base had to be packed before the track setter could cut the trails. Even then wooded trail sections opened up only as the heavier snow accumulations arrived.
In recent years skating trails have been excellent in early November and there is often excellent skiing through into late April! The present trail system has state of the art lighting and is arguably the longest lit trail system in North America. In addition, the Hay River ski facility and clubhouse are open for skiing twenty-four hours a day from November to April.
Biathlon facilities began with a range situated on the ice surface of the Hay River. It was certainly a challenging and frosty experience for athletes, spectators, and officials since the range lacked any shelter and was subject to some hefty breezes winding down the Hay River gorge.
In the 1980's the first site was cleared for a biathlon range adjacent to the parking area and close to the golf/ski clubhouse.These facilities grew from tents, with air-tight wood stoves, in the first few years, to the present wood framed and windowed palace dubbed "Home on the Range". The shooting range itself is lit throughout the season and provides perfect training facilities for biathletes of all skill levels.
The first ski club building at the present site was a 12' x 12' spruce log cabin built on the heights of the south side of the Hay River. Pat Bobinski, Bruce Green and a crew of club volunteers put this building together in the mid 70's. It is still in use, mostly as a staging spot for trail signs, and as every skier's postcard start to the classic Solitude Trail. In the fall of 2000 the cabin went under renovations with the addition of a new roof, floor, windows and a new stove. The cabin will be a great retreat for warming up in, staging training or spending a night under the stars.
Railway cars served as the clubhouse and storage facility in the early 1980's. The youth group Katimavik spent a year at the site in 1980, living in the railway cars and starting up a log building intended to house golf and skiing. It was quite an adventure for the youth group who had lots of energy but lacked the resources to carry off this ambitious task.
At the end of that year this tentative structure was dismantled. The Hay River Elks undertook a serious construction project, gathering volunteers and professional Log builders, to create a large log facility. This construction was a credit to the Elks and the incredible volunteer community in Hay River. It was a large high ceiling log building with a kitchenette, a separate ski club room with its own entrance, two wood stoves, and situated high up on the bank of the Hay River overlooking the river valley below.
Ski and Golf Facility Constructed by the Hay River Elks
A devastating fire in the winter of 1991 completely destroyed the Hay RiverGolf & Ski Club. Formidable leadership in the Hay River Community at this time came from the Hay River Elks under president Gary Hoffman, the Hay River Ski Club represented by Pat Bobinski and Rick Holmes, the Hay River Community Recreation Board, presided over by Dave MacDonald, and the Hay River Golf Club under president Rick Babkirk.
This team and their members used their energies to rebuild the facility. With support from the Territorial government and the local representative, John Pollard, core resources were made available. The new facility celebrates the energy and vision of golfers, skiers, biathletes, and the community of Hay River at large.
There is, at present, a magnificent log golf clubhouse with outstanding facilities.The ski club building with the recently added waxing room is ideal for families, racers, and touring ski enthusiasts. For big ski events, such as the annual Ptub Race, both buildings open wide to capacity crowds.