The Sandilands Ski club has a new leader.  

Founder and long-time president of Sandilands Ski Club, Laurie Silversides, stepped down in 2016. After 24 years in the top position, she decided to still remain on the board of directors.

Then came 2020 and COVID, and with more people spending time outdoors, cross-country skiing picked up popularity.

So, the Club decided it was time to redesign its website, and what better person to ask than someone who is already passionate about cross-country skiing?  

Chris Duester, web design instructor at the SRSS, together with his students created a new website for the Sandilands Ski Club. 

Then in 2021, the ski club experienced a record-setting year as restrictions pushed many people to take up outdoor activities. Sandilands was one of the only regions around the province, with enough snow to groom trails. The result was triple the number of skiers using their trails.  

Duester, the club’s new president, shares what his plans are for this winter. “I hope to get in touch with as many volunteers as I can. Rather, I should the word, stakeholders. The people that, you know, put in the hours. The ones that get recognized and the ones that kind of do it all under the radar. I recognize that we need to expand our volunteer base and maybe grow the club in that area, I see a lot of opportunities. I was thinking we have so many newcomers to this community from other countries, and I'd like to find a way that we could tie those people in and get them out and enjoy winter, because winter can be a bear, right? But, if you embrace it, you get a great workout and you get to enjoy what's just out your back door. I think that's the way to really make winter fly by.”  

Right now, Duester says, the Sandilands Ski Club has an executive of 5, besides a huge group of volunteers who are “our key people. Some of them will be the ones that groom the trails. The membership? I'm guessing it peaked during COVID at about 200, though, I'm not too sure what our numbers are at right now.” 

He notes that during the pandemic, the forests were full of people. “I saw a lot of new equipment on the trails. Many ski shops sold out of all their stuff. But the number of skiers has come down this winter. I was thinking back on those days when the parking lots were full, while this year there are still parking spots and fewer people out there. But the ones that are out on the trails, all have smiles on their faces. I’ve even seen some young kids out there. It’s really great, you know when you meet someone on the trails in the forest and they're just enjoying themselves. They can't believe we have this gem 25 minutes door to door from Steinbach.”

Sandilands Forest ski trails (Photo credit: Chris Duerster)Quarry Oaks ski trails (Photo credit: Chris Duester)

Duester says there are approximately 50kms of trails in the southeast that are being taken care of by the Sandilands Ski Club. “We have Sandilands forest, of course, 25 minutes away (with 35kms of trails). Quarry Oaks is another great local option, that's five miles outside of Steinbach, which has about 12 kilometers of trail. Then locally, there’s the Steinbach Fly-in golf course (4.8km of trail). If you just have a few minutes and you just want to get on your skis and go."

He continues, “skiing gives you quite the workout. I don't think there's a single muscle group that doesn't get hit when you cross-country ski. It's a massive cardio exercise. It's so much better than working out indoors, though. You're out in the woods. You're skiing in the Sandilands. You’ve got a 90-year-old pine forest you're just going through. There's even elevation, which is really hard to find in Manitoba and you're kind of on a narrow track, so you really feel like you're in the woods. Maybe it’s windy on your driveway, but then you get out on the trail in those woods and you don't feel a breeze and it's 20 below and you're working up a sweat, and you go “This is what fun is!” 

As to the condition of the cross-country ski trails right now, Duester says, they’re in good shape. “The grooming guys have spent hours and hours getting them ready after the heavy wet snow last month. Though there is a lot of work to be done to get it ready, they're in really good shape right now.”  

He continues, “It's always a challenge out there. We need a lot of snow to cover the erosion from motorized vehicles. So we got that right before the holidays. It's mind-boggling how many hours go into getting those trails ready. I don't think people quite realize how much it takes. Some think that we hook something to a snowmobile and get going, but there was heavy snow and branches over the trails, and year, it was a challenge, but they are in really good shape right now.”

The Quarry Oaks portion of the Sandilands Ski trailsThe Quarry Oaks portion of the Sandilands Ski trails (Photo credit: Chris Duester) 

When asked what’s ahead for the ski club, Duester talks about their newest initiative. “We’ve got an enthusiastic coach who is willing to put on one-day workshops for those who want to come out and learn how to ski.” Workshops take place on Saturday, January 14th, January 28th, and February 11th. 

He says skiing is an affordable sport. “Things are getting so expensive these days, but this is one sport that you can do for a pretty reasonable price. With the weather shaping up the way it is, I figure that this January is the best one I can recall since I've moved to Steinbach.” 

To become a member of the Sandilands Ski Club please fill out an application form on their website

Duester invites the southeast to enjoy their next Sandilands Ski Day on Sunday, February 26. "Take the time to enjoy getting to know some of the skiers that you meet on the trail. This event is open to skiers of all ages, who are members or have paid trail fees for the day. If you are interested in attending the Sandilands Ski Day contact Laurie at 204-326-4267 or email at Food will be served after your ski."  


With content from Michelle Sawatzky and Corny Rempel