In the ’50s, when I attended classes at a one-room school, noon hours meant tobogganing, snowshoeing and skiing on the hills behind our school. I remember with pleasure learning to ski on the smallest hill and then advancing to the longer, steeper slopes on the bigger hill. But nowadays, with most rural schools located in towns, such activities are no longer so easily available.
This winter, in the town of MacGregor, although we don’t have hills we do have outdoor activities for both children and adults. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are gaining popularity, due mostly to the efforts of one enterprising MacGregorite — elementary teacher, Pam May. It’s not unusual to see a whole group of students out on the MacGregor Golf Course and the nearby sports fields, learning to ski and snowshoe for their physical education classes. During off-school hours, adults can join in, too.
May first began getting students interested in outdoor winter sports a couple of years ago. She started with an after-school ski club for kids in the older grades. Rounding up a few pairs of skis, she taught them the basics and let them practise on the soccer fields. Then, after enlisting a few other adults to help, she took the students on a couple of field trips to the Bittersweet Ski Trails south of Rossendale where the trails are longer.
May wanted to make cross-country skiing part of the regular phys-ed curriculum and realized that more equipment would be needed, as well as an established trail system close to the school. By the winter of 2011-12 she had found someone with a trail-packing machine, and arranged for trails to be tracked on the MacGregor Golf Course, but the small amount of snow and mild temperatures last winter put an end to the plans for a while.
Undeterred, May continued on, deciding a ski room was needed to store the equipment near to where the trails would be. She convinced the Normac Centre (the MacGregor Rink) to let her use some space in the northeast corner of the rink. Then she enlisted several teachers and other adults to help in setting up and equipping a ski room there.
To do this, funds were needed. Donations from the North Norfolk-MacGregor Foundation helped renovate the room, and money from Manitoba in Motion helped buy more skis. The school bought about 20 pairs of snowshoes with funds from the phys-ed teachers’ group, the local parent council and pizza sales at lunchtime.
She continued collecting more ski equipment for various sizes of children and adults, and now has over 80 pairs of skis, poles and boots, as well as snowshoes for weights up to 180 pounds. “I can pretty well equip anyone from kindergarten to adults,” she said. On the first Sunday of January, about 30 skiers — both adults and children — had used the trails.
During school time if the weather is warm enough, students will use the equipment during phys-ed classes, and many adults — including my husband and myself — are making good use of the trails, too. Since we live close to the golf course and have our own skis, we can start from our house. For those who don’t have their own, May plans to have the equipment available free to the public a couple of times a week — Sunday afternoons from 1 to 4 and Thursday afternoons after school. So far, three different people have been recruited to help with the trail grooming.
Tracked trails leave right from the equipment room. Beginners can start with a short trail and then progress to the longer trail, about four kilometres, all around the golf course. There aren’t any hills but with flat, mostly straight trails, skiers can get a really good rhythm going, making it an excellent exercise.
The success of this program proves that energy and enthusiasm for a new activity can make a difference to a whole community.