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Partnership for the Course

Golf and country clubs are forming partnerships with Nordic ski clubs to increase the usage of their grounds throughout the year

Across Canada, golf and country clubs are continuing to find ways to increase the usage of their property throughout the year, particularly during the long winter months when the course sits blanketed with snow. One of the ways they are doing this is by seeking out mutually beneficial partnerships with outside associations or groups, such as Nordic ski clubs.

When Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, Alta., closed its cross-country ski trails to make way for a tube park four years ago, Foothills Nordic Ski Club agreed to partner with the City of Calgary to groom approximately seven kilometers of recreational ski trails at Confederation Park Golf Course. The skiing at Confederation Park is open to the general public, free of charge and well-attended throughout the ski season with the nearby parking lot filled to capacity most snowy weekends.

The City of Calgary views this partnership as a way to improve opportunities at Confederation Park because it provides year-round usage of city property for recreational purposes, which is great for the city to promote health and wellness opportunities for all Calgarians.

“And while there is an occasional conflict where our skiers may want to go longer while snow is on the ground, and the golf course wants to start getting ready for spring operations, the relationship we share is very positive and we can easily work things out,” said Jamie Grant, grooming operations director for Foothills Nordic Ski Club.

The topography of Confederation Park Golf Course is very level, which provides an exemplary cross-country skiing experience for all skill levels. The evenness of the grounds also means that the amount of snow required to groom and track-set ski trails tends to be much less than it would be in other ski locations, where additional snow might be needed to cover rougher terrain.

Winding around nine holes of greens and fairways, and sticking to the rough as much as possible, the ski trails are roped off throughout the ski season and the designated route is marked by different colored flags. A team of (mostly) volunteer Foothills Nordic Ski Club members maintains the trails with a cabbed, side-by-side UTV that pulls a grooming drag specifically designed to groom ski trails. Foothills Nordic also uses a smaller grooming drag that is pulled by a snowmobile.

Since the Club’s former location at Canada Olympic Park came with its own snowmaking equipment and snow crews, Foothills Nordic Ski Club is only now becoming more experienced at making snow in Confederation Park. However, this has not yet been an issue for the club as Calgary has experienced decent snowfall accumulation over the last number of years, minimizing the need for snowmaking.

“Making snow can be a challenge for us because we really need to have a large number of water sources situated around the course to do it efficiently,” said Grant. “And right now we only have access to a single hydrant. So we tend to do a lot of snow harvesting and snow farming, moving it around the trail with a snow blower and dump trailer when we need it.”

Like Foothills Nordic Ski Club, the Halifax Nordic Ski Club based in Halifax, N.S., has also been partnering with golf courses since 2016; both at its home base at the Links at Brunello and – more recently – with Oakfield Golf & Country Club. While the ski club receives the majority of the benefits under this partnership, such as access to land and trails for skiing, as well as use of the clubhouse and parking areas, the Links at Brunello is able to add cross-country skiing to the many lifestyle activities associated with the housing development that surrounds the golf course.

Since partnering with the Links at Brunello, Halifax Nordic Ski Club has seen its membership grow significantly; primarily because of the proximity of the golf course to the urban core of Halifax, and its easy accessibility to and from the city.

“Another big reason for the growth of our membership is because of our partnership on the snowmaking with the Links at Brunello and Nova Scotia’s Department of Community, Culture and Heritage,” said Lorenzo Caterini, president of Halifax Nordic Ski Club. “This arrangement allows us to hold all of our lessons and programming on snow each and every season which – for the province of Nova Scotia – is no small feat.”

When making snow, the Links at Brunello staff use HDK snow guns mounted on a wheel carriage, with sidekick units to jack the water pressure (sourced from the municipality) to 200 pounds per square inch (psi) and air compressors set at 400 psi to help disperse the powder. Halifax Nordic Ski Club volunteers are responsible for approximately 40 percent of the ski trail grooming.

“The snowmaking process can be quite an elaborate endeavor,” said Caterini. “We usually make snow during two five-day [24 hours a day] windows during the season and then, once the man-made base is established, we’re all set for the winter.”

One of the challenges in using golf courses year-round is protecting the links beneath the snow. Should cross-country skiers stray outside of the specifically designated skiing areas, they could potentially do significant damage to the frozen turf, which is only revealed once spring arrives and the snow melts. Therefore, all trail grooming activities are prohibited on areas like fairways and greens, with ski trails placed either on the rough adjacent to cart paths or on the cart paths themselves.

“On the Brunello course we only ski on the paved cart paths and the driving range areas because their fairways are sensitive to damage from ice build-up,” said Caterini. “But at our second golf venue, Oakfield Golf and Country Club, we are able to ski on some of the fairways since they are not bent grass.”

Like the majority of Canada’s golf courses, the Links at Brunello and Oakfield Golf & Country Club are designed to be walker-friendly and boast a limited elevation. As such, these locations have proven to be ideal for cross-country skiing thanks to the routing of the course and natural grass base that provide a nice and easy ski for all ages.

“Add in the natural wildlife, fantastic views and little-to-no commercial or residential activity, a golf course like ours really does make the perfect place to ski,” said Eric Tobin, general manager at Oakfield Golf & Country Club. “For us, this relationship with Halifax Nordic is a stepping-stone to overall membership growth and enjoyment, generating new experiences and initiating partnerships which have a positive, long-lasting impact on our club.”