Deep in the landlocked Ontario Escarpment forest between Georgian Bay and Lake Huron is a top cross-country ski club with a curious name: Glenelg Nordic. A palindrome – a word spelled the same forward and backward – Glenelg takes its name from a Scottish Highlands village whose etymology is obscure, though one theory holds it may roughly translate as “The Glens of Hunting”, for the favoured ground of mythical Irish warrior Finn McCool. In any case, a glen is a steep valley or a river valley, so the name suits this region on the edge of the highlands of Grey County crisscrossed by the meandering Saugeen and Rocky Saugeen Rivers.
In 1992 a group of cross-country skiers who owned farmland adjacent to a 400-acre parcel of Grey County Forest not far from Markdale decided to join forces and create this non-profit ski club and maintain a network of over 25 kilometres of trails.
With a mixture of county forest evergreen plantations, steeply featured valleys, thick cedar groves and hardwood bush, Glenelg Nordic offers just enough terrain variety for perfect cross-country skiing.
And it can only be perfect with the right trail grooming.
Founding member and head groomer David Turner owns one of the farms over which the trail runs. As he explains, there’s more to setting the perfect nordic track than most realize. The basic equipment is a Bombardier Skandic sport-utility snowmobile with an extra-wide track. First, Turner or another groomer-volunteer drags a roller or a gravel screen behind the Skandic to pack down the fresh snow. Then they attach the tracksetter, which has a scarifier on its front to break up ice and prepare the snow for the tracksetting mechanism.
“There’s a lot of technical stuff involved – the temperature, the type of snow,” says Turner. “Depending on the snow you’re working with, the tracksetter might just push it all in front instead of riding over it and doing what you want it to do.”
There’s a strategy to cutting the tracks. “If you’re a good skier,” Turner explains, “you know where you want tracks and where you don’t want them. So when I come to a place where I don’t want tracks, I press a button and a winch lifts the tracksetter up and I just groom the trail with no tracks.” At Glenelg or any other expertly groomed nordic ski area, you won’t find tracks around sharp bends or down steep hills, where trying to stay in the track can cause wipeouts.
Fellow groomer and club past-president Blain Horsley adds: “There’s quite a knack in tracksetting for fun and for safety.
“We’re skiers, so we visualize what we’re facing as we approach it. We ski with fast wax skis. I think a tracksetter should have a fast set of skis to appreciate what we’re facing.” Horsley explains that larger clubs such as Highlands Nordic near Duntroon, Ontario, have bigger machines that can deal with all kinds of conditions, including the dreaded thawed-then-refrozen crusty snow. “Our setup is more subtle, and dependent on the character of the snow itself. You don’t want to pack it ice-hard, you want it snow-hard – so the snow can still be manipulated by the skis.”
Horsley’s ideal conditions: Temperatures in the -5C to -10C range, with fresh snow every second or third day.