This is the sixth of an eight-part series of excerpts from First Tracks: A History of Skiing in Revelstoke, the latest book from the Revelstoke Museum & Archives.
By the Revelstoke Museum & Archives
Early cross-country ski competitions and cross-country skiing in general did not use regular, groomed trails. Instead, routes were charted out and groomed by skiing in them. Ed Jaatteenmaki, who along with his wife, Moira, served as a ski official for decades, remembered the creation of one route for a Combined Nordic Championship in the late 1950s:
(Hill Captain) Lloyd Bennison asked me to help him lay out the cross-country course. We wandered around the hillside of Mount Revelstoke, hacked a trail and that was what they raced on. We skied the course to groom it. We had no way of measuring it. Lloyd said, ‘I think it’s about five miles.’ It started off below the big jump and then we wandered around in the bushes and came back. It was bushwhacking really.
In 1954, a Danish immigrant, Soren Sorensen, moved to Revelstoke and began working for Parks Canada in the carpentry shop, making rustic signs. By the late 1960s he became a major driving force in the development of cross-country skiing in the community. Sorensen, with the help of Alan McInnes and others, laid out the five- and two-kilometre trails that now bear Sorensen’s name. The trails begin at the base of the Nels Nelsen Hill and are popular running, walking and snowshoeing routes today.
At first, Sorensen and other committed volunteers groomed the cross-country ski trails by packing them with snowshoes. Later, he groomed them with the ski club snowmobile that pulled a track setter. Initially this was just two 4”x4” boards, attached by chains and dragged crosswise over the trail. The two-kilometre loop was lit for night skiing by the mid-1970s.
The ski club organized races on both loops for youth and adults, and held clinics and workshops throughout the winter. In March 1974, the club held the International Cross-country Championships on Mount Revelstoke, celebrating the City of Revelstoke’s 75th anniversary.
In 1983, Revelstoke hosted the BC Winter Games and in 1986 the club held the Western Canada Cross-Country Championships with a day of classic skiing and a day of skate skiing – this was the first year that skate skiing (called “free technique”) was held.
As cross-country skiing became more active and competitive in Revelstoke, so did the need for better grooming. After Sorensen moved to Victoria, Lionel Wheeler and Brian Abear took over the grooming. As Robyn Abear recalled, the club bought a “big, heavy snowmobile” to pull the track-setter for the 1983 BC Winter Games but the machine “kept overheating and breaking down.” Grooming the five-kilometre loop could take five hours, she said. Better machinery was needed and this, in turn, needed wider trails.
According to Abear, “Cross-country skiing was changing so much. Skating was coming in. The trail on Mount Revelstoke was just not big enough for the new technique, not wide enough for two tracks and it wasn’t wide enough” for the new machinery the club was considering purchasing.
In 1988 Parks Canada was reluctant to allow the ski club to widen the trails so Brian Abear and others approached Peter Frew at the provincial Ministry of Forests about using the logging roads at the base of Mount Macpherson, where some cross-country skiing was already taking place.
In 1989, the Nordic branch of the Revelstoke Ski Club formally separated from the alpine branch and created an agreement with the Ministry of Forests to set track at the base of Mount Macpherson. The trails on Mount Macpherson were wide enough to accommodate skate skiing and the club was able to gradually upgrade its grooming equipment to meet the new demands.
First Tracks, the History of Skiing in Revelstoke, is due out in early December. Pre-orders can be made at the Revelstoke Museum & Archives or by calling 250-837-3067. The book is $40 inc. HST if ordered before Dec. 1, and $45 inc. HST afterwards.