Black Jack grooms runs as well as skiers

The groomed trails of the Black Jack Cross Country Ski Club are attracting hundreds of members.

After hosting the world’s best nordic skiers in December, the groomed trails of  the Black Jack Cross Country Ski Club are attracting hundreds of members, as well as grooming another generation of elite athletes.

Black Jack programs are the foundation of Black Jack Junior Racers cross-country ski team, with the kids Skier Development Program, including the Bunnies, Rabbits, and Track Attack drawing more than 80 participants this year, thanks to dozens of volunteer coaches and helpers.

The Junior Racers also have a number of out-of-town athletes from Revelstoke, Nelson, Kimberley, and Japan that are living and training in Rossland on a year-round basis.

Some of Canada’s top nordic skiers like Julien Locke, David Palmer, Geoffrey Richards and Rebecca Reid are current or former Black Jack skiers, while young up-and-comers include Remi Drolet, Michaela McLean and Bronwyn Moore, who are poised to represent Black Jack at the B.C. Winter Games Feb. 20.

The big event of the season, the Haywood NorAm and Buff Sprints, in conjunction with the World U23/Jr. Championship Trials and Kootenay Cup was a hit at the Black Jack tracks this past December.

Over 250 athletes from all over North America competed, including Olympic athletes, Olympic hopefuls, national champions, and the best U23 and Junior athletes in the continent. About 150 volunteers helped make the event an unmitigated success, and give the local economy a major boost.

“Of the 13 cross-country skiers that Canada has sent to Sochi, five competed here at the NorAm, and a further five competed in previous NorAms at Black Jack, including medal hopeful and 2011 World Champion Alex Harvey,” said Black Jack executive Wannes  Luppens.  “A number of the current US Olympians have also competed here in Rossland, including medal hopeful and 2013 World Champion Jessie Diggins.”

Cross-country skiing is becoming more popular than ever, with over 700 members taking to the forested trails of Black Jack this year.

“It’s our second highest ever, and it’s now our fifth year in a row with more than 600 members,” said Luppens. “In fact, our three biggest membership years on record have all come in the last four years.”

Black Jack has been grooming its runs since Nov. 3, and if all goes well, locals can enjoy the 40-kilometres of ski trails right into April or early May.

Skiers include the very young to the more experienced, with one-third of its members under 35 and one-third over 50, and more than 50 skiers that are aged 70 and older.

“It’s a lifetime sport,” adds Luppens.

But the groomed trails also attract thousands of day-pass visitors from across the globe, including many first-time cross-country skiers. As a result, Black Jack has made it even easier for initiates to try the sport without ever owning a pair of skis.

“It is now our second year offering ski rentals at the trailhead, allowing newcomers to give this fantastic sport a try. We rent both skate ski gear and classic ski gear.”

Thanks to its members and many sponsors Black Jack is also able to provide numerous perks for cross-country ski buffs from the annual Snow Show and Ski Swap to cross-country coaching workshops. In addition, the club offers plenty of fun activities like the Golden City Grind, Ski with Santa, bring a friend to ski for free, Tour de Soup, Super Hero Day, and the upcoming 30th annual Black Jack Loppet on Feb. 22.

“This past January marked our 31st year as a club. From the early days of dragging a mattress behind a snowmobile for grooming, amazing volunteers and community support have gotten us to where we are today.”