The Whistler Nordics are concerned by the lack of public input into a recent municipal decision to stop grooming trails on Nicklaus North Golf Course as a cost-cutting measure.
The decision will reduce the Lost Lake trail network from 30km to around 25km, and will change the way a lot of people access the trails. The Whistler Nordics also say the flat golf course trails are crucial for beginners, kids, families, adaptive skiers and others who have a difficult time with hills.
"We're incredibly disappointed," said Craig Mackenzie, speaking on behalf of the Whistler Nordics. "We recognize that there are some grooming issues and some access issues - and people poaching those parts of the trails - but at the end of the day they are completely flat, they're extensive and they're a very easy way for people to get an introduction to the sport."
They are also lower-impact, he said, which is attractive to aging residents and visitors who are no longer alpine skiing.
"It's an easy activity that people can do while the rest of their family is skiing, and that's important for the all-roundness of the resort," said Mackenzie.
The club has already petitioned council to speak at the next council meeting and will be working to reverse the decision.
According to the municipality, the decision to cut grooming to that area will save roughly $35,000 in operating costs. It will allow the RMOW to eliminate one of three full time grooming positions, as well as the cost of fuel, equipment maintenance, patrol and trail maintenance.
Mayor Ken Melamed said it was a tough decision.
"Most recreation services operate at a subsidy and in the current economic climate... the mandate is to reduce municipal costs. And that's what we did," he said. "$35,000 may not seem like a lot but when you add up the savings, it's part of the $1.2 million we found in the budget this year. We didn't take the approach that little amounts don't count, they count and they add up."
The municipality subsidizes Lost Lake cross-country skiing operations by roughly $80,000 per year. This season they are trying to reduce the total subsidy to roughly $30,000 through efficiencies like shutting down the Nicklaus North trails and through increases to user fees.
Melamed said the municipality took a similar approach as they did to the transit network, looking at user numbers and where the municipality could get the highest return on its investment. From that perspective, he said the Nicklaus North trails were less used than other trails in the network, there was a low rate of compliance (people purchasing tickets and passes) and higher than normal maintenance costs because of people walking and taking their dogs along the trails.
That said, Melamed said that the cuts were a trial: if the municipality can increase revenues then grooming will return.
As for the issue of people having to drive or take the bus to the village to ski, Melamed said he is one of the people who will be affected - he lives in Alpine and often skis to work during the winter.
"Now I'm going to have to take the bus or walk further if I want to ski to work, but I'm prepared to make sacrifices like everyone else to bring costs down and keep taxes low," he said.
Chelsey Walker, the executive director of the Whistler Adaptive Sport Program (WASP) said they will be discussing the issue with the municipality, but have previously told the municipality of the need to keep beginner trails like Nicklaus North open.
"We do use them (the Nicklaus North trails)," said Walker. "That is one of our prime teaching areas, especially for seated skiers. For us the only other option is to go to the learning area at Whistler Olympic Park, but that's not as nice an option because there's no accessible public transit, and that means using crowded vehicles to shuttle people and equipment back and forth. It's so much harder than being able to use local trails."
In the last few years since the Olympics, WASP has seen their user numbers and lesson grow. Before the Games they gave about 30 lessons per year, and post Games they're up to around 120 - and growing every year. WASP has also purchased two new sit skis, bringing their fleet of rentals to 10.
"Nordic skiing in particular is great (for our clients), specially for somebody who might have had a recent spinal cord injury," said Walker. "They can be relatively independent in a short time, with a much shorter learning curve than alpine. And they can head out and do this with their families, as something they can all enjoy together."
The Whistler Nordics said they initially found out about the cuts by reading municipal ads, when they noticed that the size of the trail network had shrunk. As the community's Nordic club with hundreds of members, Mackenzie said they should have been consulted in the decision.
He also questioned why the resort would cut grooming at a time when Whistler is working to become a global destination for Nordic skiers.
"According to the local retailers I've talked to the only snow sport that is significantly growing year over year recently is Nordic skiing," he said.
At the club's annual ski swap on Saturday there were over 130 people in line at opening, and most of the gear had been sold out within the hour.
As part of more than $1.2 million in cuts and money-saving initiatives from the latest municipal service review, the RMOW cut funding from a number of areas including recreation. Most of those savings will go towards the transit system, which will be operating at a reduced schedule this winter.
Early bird XC passes, tri area passes extended
Cross-country skiers will have until Nov. 24 to purchase passes for the 2011-2012 season at the early bird rate. Passes to Lost Lake are available at Meadow Park Sports Centre, as are Tri Area Passes that include access to Whistler Olympic Park and Callaghan Country trails - over 125km trails in total.
An early bird season pass for Lost Lake is $207 for an adult - $181 for Spirit Passes - going up to $259 on Nov. 25. Youth pay $123, children $103 and families $414, going up to $154, $129 and $518.
A Tri Area Pass starts at $379 for an adult, going up to $479. The early bird rate for youth is $249, for children $209 and families $849.
Dual area and night passes are also available, as are snowshoe passes.
Details are at www.whistler.ca/xcountry.