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Winter trail grooming making ground despite cold weather

It’s been over a week since the Friends of Jasper National Park were able to take the Snowdog out to play.

It’s been over a week since the Friends of Jasper National Park were able to take the Snowdog out to play.

Sarah Butterfield, the Friends’ project coordinator, said they wanted to go out last Thursday and Friday but “it just got too cold”.

Needless to say, this week was also a write-off for slope maintenance. That’s okay with Butterfield for two good reasons.

The first reason is safety for the volunteers. The second reason is that flatpacking only works down to -20C. Below this temperature, conditions with the snow itself are far from ideal.

“They call it ‘icing snow.’ It doesn’t stick to anything. Not even thinking about the comfort of the volunteers, but even thinking about the snow, it just wouldn’t be worth the effort,” Butterfield said.

“-20C is just the last zone where we get bang for our buck when we go grooming.”

Regardless, the friends have already done a lot of care for people to enjoy. The group operates separately from Parks Canada but in a complementary manner to ensure all trails are approved. Each team has its own equipment.

The friends were able to groom trails where they don’t need a trackset or other additional equipment and machines. The group has taken on some trails that parks would normally do, allowing parks to focus on other areas like the winter centers where their gear is needed.

Butterfield said it went well with the Friends volunteers and their “machine,” which is popular with the volunteer snow groomers when the weather permits.

“The schedule is pretty busy. Everyone loves to get on the Snowdog. Even though they are volunteers, given the right conditions, we go out to pack almost every day.”

The Snowdog, as she described it, is basically a motorized shopping cart, except instead of the user pushing it, it pulls the user along. It is the only motorized vehicle allowed on the trail.

This year, the Friends have 50 kilometers of cross-country trails to look after for their Winter Trail Project. They offer winter runners, cyclists, cross-country skiers and snowshoe hikers a recreational area. Basically, they are multi-purpose trails for people to get creative on skating skis or just about anything non-motorized.

“The base is there for you, so you don’t have to worry about postholing,” Butterfield said.

This project started out as a fundraiser, with friends of friends raising $22,000 which the friends matched. Butterfield said the bottom wave of support was heartwarming.

“It was just a really great feel-good project. It made a big difference, I think, for people. We got a lot of positive reviews and positive support… All in all it was a really successful project.”

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