Heading north for Nordic

Whitehorse's Mount McIntyre is an easily accessed destination for Juneau skiers

Posted: Sunday, March 02, 2003

Though their numbers are waxing, members of the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club still have plenty of room on the trails for Juneau skiers looking for a change in scenery.

"We get people up here from Juneau and Haines and Skagway and they say, 'Oh, it's so nice to see the sun,' " said Mary Whitley, secretary for the club. "They have a wonderful time skiing - they can feel so invigorated."

The Juneau Nordic Ski Club, which has 85 members this year and had around 150 last year, has created an extensive network of more than 35 kilometers of trails in the Juneau area, said Juneau Nordic Ski Club President Marc Scholten.

But when Juneau skiers begin to tire of the same trails, the elusive sun refuses to show its face for several weeks, or the rain starts to wash out tracks, Juneau's neighbors to the north are ready for Alaska skiers at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Center.

"The Mount McIntyre Recreation Center is pretty much in the center of town, seven minutes from downtown, right beside the swimming aquatic center," said Whitehorse cross-country ski club manager Mike Gladish. "You can take the city bus there."

Whitehorse Country Ski Club contact information

No. 200, 1 Sumanik Drive

Whitehorse, Yukon, Y1A 6J6, Canada

Phone/Fax: (867) 668-4477

Ski Info Line (sponsored by NorthwesTel): (867) 668-7742

E-mail: xcski@internorth.com

The center is home to the Nordic skiing, curling and dart clubs. The 65 kilometers of groomed trails - around 40 miles - surround the wooden "chalet" on Whitehorse city land. They are groomed for classic and skate skiing, the two most popular varieties of Nordic skiing, and include 3 1/2 miles of lit trails for night skiing until 9 p.m. weekdays.

The benefits of buying a $8 Canadian day pass or purchasing a membership to the club, which costs $175 Canadian per season - approximately $117 American - are not limited to the trails, though.

"We've got a terrific facility," said ski club board of directors past president Tom Ullyett. "It's not just a community trail network. It's a wonderful lodge, lit trails, a nice wax room, a change room, bathroom, sauna and a lounge upstairs."

After their workout, skiers can relax, eat and drink at the club's bar while watching television or viewing curling on the arena in the same building.

"We often meet people at the club," said Whitley. "It's informal, we'll see someone and say let's get together for a beer, for coffee, come over Friday night."

Skiing in Whitehorse normally starts in early November and lasts until mid-April, said Gladish. This year, though some were skiing in early December, the season really didn't begin until Christmas.

"What happened this year because we didn't have any snow until December, a lot of us were saying our social lives have just been shot to hell," said Whitley.

The Mount McIntyre Recreation Center, commonly referred to as Mount Mac, was built in 1981 when the World Cup Cross Country Ski Championships were held in Whitehorse.

"It was the first such race held in Canada, or outside of Europe for that matter," said Ullyett. "For whatever reason they chose Whitehorse and they built the chalet and a good part of the trail network."

The cross country ski club was formed around the same time, with about 350 to 450 members, Ullyett said. Membership began to increase significantly in the mid-1990s, and the club has 900 members.

"There are a number of factors that we think may impact on this: The general trend in Canada and I think the U.S. as well is to be more concerned with health and fitness, particularly with baby boomers," he said. "Our membership fees have not increased for years, and we think that's a factor as well. ... We also have one of the top five cross-country ski facilities in Canada."

Mount Mac's ranking as one of the top five ski facilities is anecdotal, he said, based on what he's heard from skiers who have been to many areas around the country.

The club has a Web site and a ski condition phone line that lists trail conditions and recommends the best wax for the snow. Juneau skiers who need help figuring out how to wax their skis for the drier, colder weather can ask staff, who are available whenever the center is open, Gladish said.

Juneau skiers can gain access to the facilities for around $5.50 per day, $13 for three days, or $24 for five days, depending on the exchange rate.

Getting to Whitehorse can be part of the adventure for those with more time, as the Alaska Marine Highway System's run between Juneau and Skagway often is conducive to a long weekend in Whitehorse. On their way to Mount Mac, skiers can enjoy a scenic 105-mile drive between Skagway and their destination.

Air North, a Whitehorse-based airline, has two regularly scheduled flights a week between Juneau and Whitehorse, one on Friday and the other on Mondays. The cost for the flight is $317 Canadian, or around $212 American.

Upcoming events at the center include the Canadian Masters Championships, for skiers over 30, which will take place this week, and the NorthwesTel Yukon Loppet, a 20- or 30-kilometer race next Saturday. A loppet is a recreational race that originated in Sweden.

Juneau residents who can't make it up next weekend, though, should have plenty more weekends this winter to enjoy Mount Mac's facilities.

"The winter was long to come, but now we're thinking that it might be long," said Gilles Bedard, who has been skiing in Whitehorse for 10 years. "It's still cold and we still have enough snow to do very good skiing. But we'll never know, eh? Who knows what will happen. So far it's good."

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.

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