Inuvik’s ski club celebrated its emphatic return from a short hiatus with the Top of the World Loppet’s 51st edition this past weekend.
The club marked the loppet’s 50th anniversary in 2018 but became inoperative shortly afterward as volunteer numbers dropped.
Carolyn Hunter, president of the revitalized club, said a lack of volunteers made it hard to offer regular programming and keep the trails groomed. Many of the club’s activities were put on hold.
However, pandemic restrictions brought renewed local interest in the sport – and with that interest came more volunteers.
“I think Covid-19 was really helpful that way, because people are dying to do something in the community,” Hunter said.
The club now boasts more than 100 hundred members, from zero at the start of the season, and has an active board.
Inuvik has hosted after-school ski programming for students with help from Spirit North and Cross Country NWT and ran a ski scavenger hunt on World Pi Day in March, mixing orienteering and math facts.
Hunter said skiers were thrilled to see the loppet return. Loppets are usually not formal competitions but more relaxed gatherings of skiers on a particular route. During the pandemic, some loppets have created multiple routes to encourage social distancing.
“There’s been a lot of enthusiasm,” Hunter said. “People have fond memories of the loppet. It’s 51 years in the community, in the region. I think it’s an exciting day.”
For the love of sport
Events on Saturday range from a half-kilometre route for younger kids to a 10-kilometre ski for those wanting to push themselves. Anyone wanting to don a bib and strap on skis was welcome.
Tess Forbes, a club board member, was the loppet’s lead organizer.
Having grown up an avid skier, she said organizing the loppet gave her an appreciation for the work that goes into hosting such events.
“We’ve seen so much positive feedback for any of the events that we’ve run,” she said. “Everyone seems to be like, ‘Wow, the ski club’s open, you guys are doing a fantastic job,’ which is great to see. It’s so satisfying.”
Forbes encouraged anyone who’s curious to get out and try the sport for themselves by borrowing equipment from the club; it doesn’t matter if you’re an expert or if you’re just starting out.
“Worst case, you kind-of just shuffle along and chat and have fun with people,” she said. “But you could also go out and win the Olympics if you really wanted to.”
Hayleigh Conway, one of Saturday’s participants, moved to Inuvik four years ago. She took up skiing when she got to town and hasn’t looked back since.
“I love how accessible it is here,” Conway said. “I can just walk from my house with my ski boots on and … it’s beautiful to get out and see the ski trails.”
Five-year-old Ainsley Kalata has been skiing for a year. She said her favourite part is going down hills because she “goes fast.”
Her father, Bart Kalata, shares his daughter’s passion.
“You just sort-of forget about everything that’s going on in the world, and you hit your stride and you’re in a flow,” he said. “It’s great.”
As warming temperatures bring the NWT’s ski season to a close, Hunter said enthusiasm for the sport continues to grow in the town. The club hopes to continue offering programs and grooming trails in the coming years.
“It’s nice to have community trails because it’s simply a place that brings people together,” she said.
“But honestly, you can put on your skis and head out wherever there’s snow, so it’s great.”