New ski program targets youth, parents

Tired of the kids hanging around the house Saturday mornings watching cartoons and gaining weight? Do you wish there was something more for them to do than chat with their friends online?
Well, starting in January, there will be a new recreational program here that’s designed to turn couch potatoes into energetic dynamos and flabby backsides into buns of steel.
The local Rainy Lake Nordic Ski Club is launching the “Jack Rabbit” program, aimed at teaching youngsters aged four-15 to master the sport of cross-country skiing.
The program was given the name by Ski Canada in honour of the Norwegian-born Canadian, “Jack Rabbit” Johanson, who brought his love for the popular Scandinavian pastime to Canada when he moved here at the turn of the last century.
Johanson lived to the age of 112 and was still actively skiing when he was 100.
Since then, the sport has gained in popularity at the competitive level. But until now, there was little opportunity to pursue it at the recreational level in the district.
That’s about to change.
“We’ll be holding our first orientation session on Jan. 3,” said club member Jim Martindale. “Although this is a youth program, we’re encouraging parents to come out and ski with their children.”
Registration will be held at the Fort Frances Children’s Complex starting at 11 a.m. that day.
Martindale, a retired phys. ed. teacher at Fort Frances High School, is one of seven people who are putting the program together. He said there’s already been a great deal of organizational work done and he hopes to have as many as 30 people signed up.
The club has 12 km of groomed trails at Rocky Inlet, just east of the Noden Causeway, and there will be more in the future if the demand is there.
The program is divided into three parts—Bunny Rabbits, Jack Rabbits, and Racing Rabbits. The first category is for children aged four-six and the emphasis here is strictly on the basics.
“The main thing they will learn is to have fun and to be able to move on skis—how to fall down, how to get up, how to turn, and walk on skis,” Martindale explained.
At the Jack Rabbit level, children aged seven-11 will learn the more advanced skills and fitness.
“This is serious cross-country ski skills,” said Martindale. “They’ll learn the classic and free-style techniques.”
There is no competition at this level but there will be a serious racing component, he noted.
The third level is for kids 12-15 and here things get serious. “At this stage, races are promoted and kids will have the opportunity put their training to use,” Martindale remarked.
The ski club has lined up a $1,000 sponsorship from the Voyageur Lions Club, and currently is hoping to receive more funding from the town and local businesses.
At a meeting Monday night at the Memorial Sports Centre here, the committee decided there will be a registration fee of $40 per child, with a sliding scale of discounts for siblings and families.
It also is looking into the possibility of eventually renting equipment to members on an annual basis, though that may not happen this year.
“I don’t think we can have the rental program this year,” noted Dr. Cam Moorhouse, one of the instructors. “But if there is anyone who has used equipment you’re not using, you might consider donating it.”
Dr. Moorhouse also said the lack of equipment should not deter anyone from getting involved. “Don’t let not having equipment stop you,” he stressed. “If you come, we’ll try to find it for you.”
However, cross-country ski equipment is not that expensive to buy compared to downhill skiing or hockey. For instance, a serviceable set of skis, poles, boots, and bindings can be had for about $200, said Martindale.
For adults, the price is a little more.
“It would run an adult about $300 to get a complete set,” he estimated. “Once you get into racing or skate skiing, a good set would run about $400.”
The first few lessons will take place at the Fort Frances Children’s Complex on Portage Avenue, beginning Jan. 10 at 11 a.m. sharp. There, participants will learn the fundamentals and there will be some skill games for the younger ones.
Everyone is reminded to bring along plenty of warm clothing, water, and snacks.
Then the plan is to move to the trails north of Eighth Street to practice before heading out to the groomed trails at Rocky Inlet.
For more information on the program, contact Martindale (274-7829) or Julie Shuh (274-9876).