“Governments go on and on about how as a population, we’re recreating less and less all the time and getting less and less fit,” Prince Albert Ski Club co-director Doug Dietrick said. “All it’s doing is making it more difficult for that group of people to go out and recreate. That’s just a step in the wrong direction.”
While the trails will still be open and ploughed in winter, park employees will no longer handle track setting -- the procedure by which a snowmobile pulls a groomer behind it to create two grooves in the snow. Without track setting, cross-country skiers must break their own grooves, which makes the activity slower and more difficult.
Prince Albert National Park superintendent Alan Fehr said that the decision to stop track setting really represents a transfer of resources to the park’s peak period in summer. The federal government and Parks Canada observed that national park attendance in winter had been declining for some time -- though Prince Albert National Park bucked the trend by seeing an increase in winter visitors over the past few years.
“What we’re going to do is shift the money from the winter period to the summer period,” Fehr said. “So there won’t be a cost savings, but what there’ll be is an improvement in the level of service that we provide our summer and spring visitors … It’s a shifting of resources to the peak period.”
Dietrick countered by noting that, as a farmer who is busiest during the other three seasons, winter is the only time he is able to visit the park. He said many other members of the P.A. Ski Club have expressed similar sentiments.
Fehr suggested that if local community groups are interested in working with the park to handle jobs such as track setting, the park is more than willing to develop a volunteer agreement by which group members could use park equipment to do the track setting themselves.
But Dietrick isn’t buying it. The group’s main venue for cross-country skiing is Little Red River Park and volunteers from the club already handle track setting there.
For me, it just lets Parks Canada off the hook. - Doug Dietrick
“All we’re doing is offloading to those people that do ski,” Dietrick said. “I mean, I volunteer … upwards of 100 hours every year to track-set at Little Red, and I know another four individuals who do exactly the same. Do we need another job that we don’t get paid to do? No.”
He added: “For me, it just lets Parks Canada off the hook. ‘Oh, well, somebody else is going to do it, so … we don’t need to fund that.’ I would rather see skiers take a stand and say, ‘We don’t like this and we really use those trails, and we would like to continue to use them.’”
The cutbacks will impact local businesses, such as Gene’s Sports Excellence, that benefit from the wave of cross-country skiers every winter.
“It’s going to affect us as far as ski sales, because there’s people up around that area that ski,” Gene’s co-owner Dave Kapacila said. “That’s where they ski, so if they’re not skiing, they’re not going to be buying new equipment.”
In addition, Kapacila anticipated that area hotels and restaurants would be negatively affected, since many ski clubs such as the one in Saskatoon involve travel to places including Prince Albert National Park.
The P.A. Ski Club isn’t taking the development lying down. Dietrick has written an email to the group’s provincial body in the hopes that it will forward the message to every ski club in Saskatchewan. The club is encouraging skiers to contact their local MPs and/or the park superintendent to make their voices heard.
Dietrick said Prince Albert skiers plan to contact regional MPs Randy Hoback and Rob Clarke.
“Our club is going to get quite actively involved trying to lobby all our members to get ahold of the political animals that sort of make these decisions, and see if there isn’t something we can do.”