To fill the void, eager skiers were encouraged to participate in a virtual loppet recently. Participants were asked to register for time slots on one of the two trail options (22 km trails at the Kingswood/UNB Woodlot, and the Killarney Lake Park trail) and self-record their ski times.
A loppet is a gathering of skiers, both experienced and casual, who ski across specifically groomed trails. The style of course originates in Scandinavian Europe. While dense crowds of skiers and the abundance of food and beverage stations were missing from this year’s event, it didn't stop participants from registering for the virtual event in droves.
"The best way to describe it is a fun run on skis," said Wostawea club volunteer Barbara Ramsay. "This really is for skiers of every single level.”
Ramsay says that organizing the virtual loppet was simpler than organizing the traditional event in previous years, as the volunteer commitment required is usually much larger. Previous loppets drew over 200 participants.
Speaking on the large turnout for the virtual loppet, Ramsay mentioned the flexibility allowed participants to “choose the day and the time and the distance that works for them."
"Because of COVID, I think more and more families are trying to figure out how to spend quality time outside," said Ramsay, drawing attention to the record high Wostawea club membership numbers, now exceeding 1000 members.
Youth who have participated in the Wostawea Club's Jackrabbit program were automatically entered into the loppet, and participants ranged from children as young as four years old to seniors in their 70s.
Eric Luiker, coach of a Wostawea racing team, suggests that while some people approach the loppet with a competitive attitude, it is, for the most part, a casual atmosphere: "Officially it is for fun, and for engaging the community in a ski event,” he explained.
Since moving to Fredericton in 2001, Luiker and his family took part in loppets and other skiing events, with his children participating in the Jackrabbit program.
Outdoor activities have seen a huge increase in interest since COVID-19 reached New Brunswick.
"It's sort of through the roof," Luiker says. "Every one of our programs has gone up significantly. We've actually had to cap most of our programs because we just don't have enough coaches to run them."
Luiker points out that there is a significant drop in participation numbers for the university-age category, and he wants to get more university-age participants involved in future loppets and Wostawea Club activities, Luiker hopes to assist in forming a university cross-country skiing club.
For individuals interested in trying out cross-country skiing, Barbara Ramsay recommends purchasing or leasing skiing gear from Radical Edge.