FOUNDERS, MONO NORDIC SKI CLUB
PROMOTERS, TEACHERS, VOLUNTEERS
The mandate of the Mono Nordic Ski Club is “to provide low cost high quality cross country skiing opportunities to members of the community regardless of age or fitness level.” Sharon is also a Councillor for the Town of Mono. Sharon and Ross live in Mono.
So you actually live right on the ski trails.
Sharon: We live right on them. We bought some of the property that the trails are on. It connects the Credit Valley land to the land that Mono had bought, and we put our house on it with the trails right around us. We’ve been in the area for 54 years, and in Mono for 32.
Is that 54 years together as well?
Ross: 53 married and 54 together.
Well, I hope it lasts.
Ross: I came here to teach in the high school in ’62, and Sharon and I formed a partnership starting in the fall of that year and married a year later. I’m from Chesley, North of Hanover area in Bruce County. Sharon’s grand-father was my public school principal.
And he still let you marry him.
Sharon: My grandfather was very pleased.
I’m sure he was! So the club began in ’85: was there a lot of interest?
Sharon: We called a meeting of people who were interested in forming a club, and we had well over a hundred the very first meeting. We established that we would have an initiation fee of $100 for anybody who joined, and that was sufficient funds to be able to completely cover the cost to develop the trails.
Ross: The trees had to all be properly cut where the trails were going, then we brought a grader in who was a Mono resident, a farmer, and we hired him to do all the shaping of all the trails. In one single year we went from a cold start, even later than this (May) in ’85, and skied on it by Christmas time.
How do you determine where to put a trail?
Sharon: There are lots of people who design cross country ski trails. They go out on the property, and they probably have a lot better things to work with these days.
Ross: Don Ellis and I were the two coaches that had been quite involved in racing and coaching, and Don especially had contacts at the national and provincial level, and we were able to draw on some of them to come and help. A lot of it was our own knowledge of what worked and how to make things connect, but we had external help as well.
Ross, you’re also responsible for grooming the trails. How does that work?
Ross: There are a number things involved. The club has a snowmobile which is used to handle the grooming of these trails. The grooming involves packing snow when it first comes, either with a roller or a snowmobile itself. And then after it’s packed, there’s a machine that puts little ridges in the base, and puts a classic track in — sets the two grooves for the track. Because of the seasons we’re getting — we very often have warm days and then it freezes at night which creates a very hard packed surface — with that same machine, we can put teeth down on it, and it’s doing a great job of making it possible to come back and ski after the mild weather has made conditions very fast and very hard to ski on.
Speaking of warm weather, I was looking at some of the pictures of your huge Family Day events, and there’s kids there skiing with no hats, no gloves…
Sharon: When the kids first started to come out to ski, their parents would say, “You’re going to be out in the cold!” They’d send them with snowmobile suits and those masks right over their faces, and after half a kilometre I’m ripping the kids scarves off and their hats off because they’re sweating. They are in more danger of overheating than being cold.
We’ve pretty well educated everybody now, and they don’t show up like that. We like them to keep their gloves on but hats come off and on, because if they’re working at all out there then they’re sweating, they need to release some of this heat not keep it in there.
As the spring comes along — it wasn’t as wonderful this year — but as spring comes along, you’ll see a big pile of coats and you have to go out and get those.
Ross: The only people we have difficulty with, with temperature, are the principals. And that’s because they hear “wind chill factor.” But we are fully sheltered and we’re right close to a building immediately and the kids are active. Quite often we’ve had to talk to schools into letting students come out, and by the time they get to the top of the first little hill, they’ve taken their coats off.
I wanted to ask you about the school programs: Sharon mentioned that you have about 2000 kids, so how often does the program run to get that many kids out?
Ross: We have five days a week in February, March, morning and afternoons available. We usually get about a hundred day if the snow is good, and the school has gotten their classes scheduled in.
Sharon: We go out and teach a lesson, we have the equipment there — the equipment is there because of the school program, it was started by an elementary school principal many years ago. We got involved because the kids were out on the trails, they were all over, the teachers were unhappy, nothing was going right. It had to have some structure and that’s what we provided. And we have an incredible number of volunteers, and also an amazing support from the town of Mono.
How does that support sort of live?
Sharon: The town of Mono allows us to be in the building in Monora Pavillion at no charge,. We’re very careful with the building, we clean it, we take care of it. There’s no cost to them for any of that.
We have volunteers who come out twice a week — we had one man this year who was there almost half the days, he’s fantastic. We have a schedule of volunteers, and a lot of them go away and they apologize, “We’re going on holidays, I’m so sorry!” It has worked extremely well.
Describe the trails for me.
Ross: We have quite a variety. There’s a 3 or 4K loop that’s the easiest loop, and another 2K, which goes on our property, which has very little hills on it, so we call that beginner level. There’s a 4K perimeter that’s an intermediate level because it has hills but the hills are not technical. And then we have the 7.5K, and that’s where we hold our races.
The year before we came here, our high school team was at an OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) competition in Ottawa, and it had a hill that was so difficult and technical that nobody was able to handle it without falling. So the next year we went back and after we pre-skied, the students came in all excited: “They changed the course, they’ve taken that hill out!” I said, “No they haven’t.” Our team had been skiing so well because of the technical course we have here — they didn’t even know they’ve skied right through it.
Al Pilcher was our first student and club member to make it to the Olympics, and he used to say that ours was the most difficult 5K he ever raced on, based on the fact there’s no rest: you’re always working here, going up hill or downhill.
Sharon: He was the first of three from our club who were in the Olympics: Al, Ron Howden in ’88, and Lisa Patterson (Lisa was on the ’88 Olympic team but did not actually compete; she did, however race in the World Cup in Europe).
Volunteers really are the backbone, aren’t they?
Sharon: We’ve got some volunteers who go one-on-one with kids, because often that kid can’t even stand up. We have several who are really good with the kids, very encouraging, very patient. And that’s the two most important traits when you find a volunteer.
And it really is good exercise isn’t it.
Sharon: It’s considered the best. There was an article in the Star talking about the different Olympic sports, and cross country ski wins as far as full-body aerobic exercise it’s the best
Ross: Balance strength, endurance.
Sharon: There are people with knee problems who can still cross country ski. Ross has kind of a wicked knee but he can cross country ski.
How about at night?
Ross: We have two kilometres that we have lights on, this allows the local residents who work through the daytime to either come for a quick ski before or right after supper. The trail is open until about 9:30 every night.