The Souris Striders ski club says it is "overwhelmed with success" this season — with almost 500 members — for the second season in a row.
On some weekends, club organizers said there are as many as 100 people on the trails, many attracted by the $10 season pass and an equipment rental rate of $5 per excursion.
"We've been overwhelmed with success, to be truthful. We've been flat out busy," said club president Becky Townshend.
"The weekends here, we're busy. There's cars parked on the road, the rental shop is hopping.… Somebody this past Sunday counted 100 people on the trail."
The non-profit, volunteer run club was founded in 1988 by a group of local skiing enthusiasts, and offers 13 kilometres of trails for classic and skate skiing, and snowshoeing, seven days a week.
The current success is a far cry from 2015, when membership had dwindled to just 75 members.
The club started a lottery, to help pay the bills, which has turned into an annual fundraiser.
Townshend said another turning point came a few years ago when the club partnered with the Souris Wildlife Group, which took over ownership of the building, freeing up the club financially.
"Then two years ago, the board decided to make a season pass $10 and rentals $5 to kind of eliminate that financial barrier to people coming out and trying the sports of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing," Townshend said.
"Since then, our membership right now is up to 474 people this year, and last year was over 500."
Townshend said the COVID-19 pandemic meant the club had to close up the rental shop at March break last year.
"But we did continue to groom because once people are on the trail, it really is a natural social distancing activity," she said. "People who had their own gear, we skied into March and it was a good break for everyone, to get out into the woods."
Townshend said the interest in outdoor activity sparked by the pandemic has brought new faces to the Souris ski club.
"We're seeing a big increase in young families, and young adults, and quite often people come in and they've never put skis on before," she said. "It's a new experience for them, and quite often they'll come back."
Club treasurer Mary MacCormac got involved 10 years ago and organizes the annual elimination draw lottery, which raises $10,000 every year.
"We sell 200 tickets at $100 each and this year, somebody said to me that was selling tickets, 'They're coming out of the woodwork looking for them,'" she said. "So that was great."
The club has also received funding from the Northside Windmill Enhancement Program and the provincial government, which helped pay for rental skis and the new LED lights.
Freda Smit-Mckie skis four or five times a week.
"It means sanity in this time of craziness, exercise and fresh air, blue sky," she said, adding that she's seeing a lot of new faces this season.
"COVID. I think that's a huge part of it. People are realizing they need to get out and get exercise, and they have more time, and hopefully they'll stay."
Townshend hopes the upward trend will continue.
"We just love to keep this place open and the lights on," she said. "We have some new board members joined us who are a bit younger, so we're hoping we can take advantage of their age, like we've joined Instagram."
Townshend said the club hopes to purchase more skis, and is considering a dedicated snowshoe trail.
Townshend said she's not worried about having too many members.
"Even this year, on our busiest days, we have COVID protocols in the lodge, and even if all our rental gear is out, within 10 or 15 minutes, somebody is usually coming back with the rental gear.
"I'd say the more the merrier."
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