A pilot project has transformed a Halifax-area golf course into a local cross-country skiing destination.
The Halifax Nordic Ski Club has partnered with the Oakfield Golf and Country Club near Fall River to add a five-kilometre loop that spans half of the course.
Lorenzo Caterini is the president of the Halifax Nordic Ski Club (HNSC). He said the location of this trail is ideal because cross-country skiing trails set on grass are more forgiving than trails set on gravel.
“You can ski on grass with five centimetres of snow, while on gravel you need probably 15,” Caterini said.
The HNSC is using six different locations this season across Halifax Regional Municipality: Brunello Golf Course, MacDonald Sports Park, Dollar Lake Provincial Park, Graves Oakley, Smileys Provincial Park, and now Oakfield.
Caterini said that’s strategic too.
“They’re in different geographical belts as far as snow goes. Most of our members are from HRM, so even if there’s snow, they don’t have time to drive the 45 minutes during the week,” he said.
“So that’s why we have the city venues. And once in a while we’ll get snow in one of our remote venues for weekends, but not in the city because we’re so close to the ocean.”
Cross-country skiers rely on consistent snowfall. Caterini said the window for ideal skiing conditions is around 90 days, roughly from the beginning of January until the end of March.
He’s expecting to get 10 to 12 more days than normal at Oakfield because of the grass base.
If conditions are not ideal, Caterini said they are able to make snow at the Brunello Golf Course and transport it where needed.
“We don’t get as much snow anymore in Nova Scotia, and grooming between the fairways is much easier than grooming in the woods with all the rocks, trees and gravel,” he said.
The new trail is a trial run for both Oakfield and the HNSC. If things go well, Caterini said the trail could expand to 10 km across the entire 18-hole course.
“We’re very excited to have Oakfield Golf and Country Club as a partner with Halifax Nordic,” he said. “We’re pumped to have a new venue and we’re looking forward to getting out on the skis.”
Oakfield general manager Eric Tobin agreed.
“We were having people coming out and cross-country skiing anyway, so the partnership with the Halifax Nordic Ski Club was good because it allowed us to groom those trails and keep those skiers in designated areas,” said Tobin.
Keeping people involved
Golf courses usually sit dormant during the off-season, but Tobin recognized this partnership as an opportunity to keep people involved in the colder months.
“We were looking for ways to keep our membership engaged throughout the winter, but also to have members of the community come out and enjoy the property,” said Tobin.
The new trail is also keeping the staff at the club busy during the off-season.
“One benefit is that we have employees that work for us in the winter, so this gives them the opportunity to keep busy in the winter as well,” Tobin said.
Oakfield grounds staff will be grooming the trails, but the frequency of maintenance will depend on the weather conditions.
“It’s going to be a day-by-day thing,” he said. “We have the resources here that could allow us to do it everyday if necessary.”
Access to the trail will work on the honour system, but officially, Caterini said the trail is open to the 325 registered HNSC members and Oakfield Club Members only.
“We encourage everyone to go and if they enjoy themselves, we’d like them to consider joining our club,” said Caterini.
Joining the HNSC is $65, which Caterini said pays for both liability insurance and the operating costs on maintaining the trails. The fee also allows members access to group trips, an equipment rental service and youth instructional programs.
Caterini hopes that youth interest in cross-country skiing will snowball in the coming years.
“It’s hard to get youth engaged when they only get to go on the snow five to seven times a year,” he said.
“With the snow-making and the low snow grooming at Oakfield, the kids can be out on the snow every weekend, so we hope they’ll take to it and stay in the sport.”
A full list of trails is available on Cross-Country Nova Scotia’s website.
About the author
Ben Elliott is a reporter for the Signal at King's College in Halifax. He got his HBA in Communication Studies from the University of Waterloo...