The seemingly never-ending COVID-19 pandemic has caused shifts in habits and “trends” (such as, most notably, homemade sourdough bread). Cross-country skiing has emerged as a very popular activity. This trend can, in fact, be observed all over the world. In Manitoba, specifically, seasoned skiers and equipment sellers have noticed an increased interest in the sport.
Dustin White, who works at Winnipeg sporting gear store Bikes & Beyond, says the demand for cross-country ski equipment at his store has undoubtedly increased during the pandemic.
“It is overall up by (more than) 20 per cent,” he says in an email to The Uniter. “The demand continues to be high enough that we’ve already pre-sold some of (the) ordered skis for December 2022.”
Raphaël Boutroy, a longtime crosscountry skier and competitive racer, is not surprised by this. “In Manitoba, because of the long winters, it is important for people to find winter activities,” he says in an email to The Uniter.
“Conveniently, skiing is an outdoor activity that is easy to enjoy while keeping your distance,” Boutroy says. “For newer skiers, the sport offered an opportunity to socialize and interact safely, all while getting some fresh air.”
Boutroy has noticed many more beginners on the ski trails since the start of the pandemic.
“There (are) more new skiers who seem to be benefiting as much from the exercise as from the opportunity to spend time with someone, other than online,” he says.
Cross-country skiing is a relatively affordable sport and can be enjoyed by beginners with no experience.
“The activity itself is not beyond reach. The movements used in skiing are present in our everyday life,” Boutroy says.
Windsor Park Nordic Centre, located on Des Meurons Street, is the main ski centre in Winnipeg, with approximately 15 kilometres of groomed and lit trails. During the summer months, it is a golf course.
“With demand increasing, we’re hoping that other seasonal-use facilities make themselves available to winter activities, so that there are more options available,” White says, adding that “we’re going to see growth in the demand, as long as there is snowfall and routes available for skiers.”
“An ‘if you build it, they will come’ axiom comes to mind,” he says.
Many cities in Nordic countries, with similar winter climates to Winnipeg’s, have taken the urban integration of cross-country skiing to a whole new level. Last year, the Finnish city of Lahti “launched the world’s first urban ski-sharing program.” So reliant on cross-country skis are Oslovians that the Norwegian government brought snow to their downtown amid warmer-than-usual temperatures.
Though Winnipeg has yet to reach that level of winter infrastructure, White is optimistic about the future of the sport.
“There’s also some grassroots clubs that are growing from word of mouth and a new generation of skiers carrying the torch and getting younger skiers into the winter activity,” he says.
Find more information on cross-country skiing in Manitoba at ccsam.ca.
Published in Volume 76, Number 13 of The Uniter (January 13, 2022)