Le ski dans ma cour sauvage

Dans son texte "le ski de campagne", Mark Woolsey met en évidence son grand amour pour son sport préféré; il capte l'attention de ses lecteurs et leur lance le défi de trouver de la neige convenable durant toute l'hiver et tout près de leur domicile. Il offre des conseils sur l'équipement et les techniques de ski. C'est par l'entremise du ski qu'il a approfondi ses connaissances des forêts et des pratiques forestières actuelles; il maintient son espoir qu'une nation de skieurs de campagne ne permettraient pas que l'on continue à outrance les coupes à blanc.

Skiing my Wild Backyard

Mark Woolsey
December 1997


t's not yet Christmas, and already the ice on the Kennebecasis River is safe for skiing. From my home, I can cross the river to the Kingston Peninsula where the woods lie two and three feet deep in snow. The lure of swift travel and exploration draws me to trails, over high hills and frozen lakes, through swamps and thick woods, along side hills and ravines alike.

Even the ragged bones of old clear cuts are easy to traverse on ski-winged feet, though the chill of winter seems more threatening in these anomalous zones. What a treat this early start on the ski season would be, were it not for the plastic flagging on hundreds of trees, portending future clear cuts that are soon to replace large portions of this forest.

(photo: M. Woolsey)
Clearly, it's not necessary for Canadians to travel to Davos or Aspen, or even to Banff, to enjoy many days of first-rate skiing every winter.

This depressing discovery may be my just desserts for having had so much fun and healthy exercise, all the while spending so little money. Back-country skiing has at least this degree of revolutionary implication; that it does minimal harm to the world in the course of many hours of enjoyment and with very little personal contribution to the Gross Domestic Product. The above truth depends, of course, upon the personal immunity of the skier to commercial glamour and hype. Clearly, it's not necessary for Canadians to travel to Davos or Aspen, or even to Banff, to enjoy many days of first-rate skiing every winter. I've recently read an account of two New Hampshire back-country skiers who boasted a record of twenty-four consecutive months of skiing, at least one day each month, in their home locale. Certainly, the advantage of living next to 2000 meter high Mt. Washington can't be denied, but it's their mind set that I'm interested in.

I live on the outskirts of Saint John, where we receive the least amount of snow of anywhere in New Brunswick. Still, there have been very few days in the past several winters when I have been unable to enjoy skiing within the walking distance of my home. A two inch skiff of wet snow in November gives a fine early season workout on the golf course. The river offers an opportunity to travel, and visit friends, even when there is very little snow ashore. Deep woods and ravines hold snow long after it disappears from open areas. Snow drifts have long survival on north-facing side hills, and offer, in the space of fifty feet or less, a chance to practice all the down-hill and telemark techniques that I may need for someday skiing the snowfields of the Himalayas!

When the machine beaten trails are icy and unappealing, the snow in the woods is often ideal.

I give myself major points when I don't use a car to go skiing, but it should be recognized that a short drive from just about anywhere in New Brunswick will get you to snow in the winter. When the machine beaten trails are icy and unappealing, the snow in the woods is often ideal. The accessibility of snow being established, there remain some possible barriers to participation in the sport of back-country skiing. Choice of equipment and level of confidence on skis are two such issues. Commonly sold cross-country equipment, being extremely light and modeled after racing gear, demands considerable skill for use in unpacked snow. However, wider skis and stiffer boots are better for confidence building. An editorial in Cross-Country magazine estimated that the vast majority of cross-country skiers have no interest in, or access to, machine groomed tracks. Nevertheless, beginners are being sold inappropriate and in some cases, overly expensive gear meant for groomed trails.

An old pair of downhill skis, no longer than your own height, and fitted with a sturdy cross-country binding and boot, is a practical alternative to buying expensive back-country equipment.

One inhibition people feel with respect to back-country skiing is the problem of getting down hills in one piece. Snowplow and telemark techniques can be practiced on a patch of snow no bigger than your back yard. It will be time well spent for both the exercise and for the confidence it builds.

Why am I so eager to recruit back-country skiers? Why not keep the peace and solitude of the winter woods to myself? The impending roar of skidders, trimmers and chainsaws will soon put an end to the peacefulness I am enjoying.

Would a nation of back-country skiers allow the practice of unlimited clear cutting to continue? Norway, whose skiing tradition predates its history, has far more sustainable and enlightened forest management policies than Canada. These include restrictions on the size of clear cuts and an emphasis on the recreational use of the forests.

Back-country skiing offers us the ability to travel farther and more freely in the woods than by any other unmotored means. One cannot cover miles of back-country and be unaware of what is happening to the forests of our province.

Surely, an approach to forestry can be enacted in this country, that will give ample consideration to the rights of plants and animals, as well as to those of skillful woods workers. I am certain that such a policy will be strongly supported by that all-too-rare life-form, the back-country skier!