The Winter of our Discontent

South Sask River in March

William Shakespeare’s famous line in Richard III wasn’t really about winter. Same for John Steinbeck’s 1961 novel with a similar title. For those literary titans, winter was a metaphor, but this is a tale of a real Saskatchewan winter and what we did to try and make it “skiable”.

South Sask River in March

South Saskatchewan River on a crisp -25 C morning in early March (©canoeski)

We’re a week and a half into official spring and on March 31st, according to CBC radio reports, we broke low temperature records in eighteen different Saskatchewan communities – all in keeping with a nasty pattern established early in the winter. It has been a season of remarkable extremes, from searing -40º C wind chills to a blazing January thaw of +8º C! Not in my 34 winters in Saskatchewan have I ever experienced such bizarre swings in weather!

How did we cope with the “bizarriness” of the weather? Well, as a ski instructor it was a case of dodging around and between the wind chills, the ice and the slushy tracks. I had to cancel a lot of sessions, reschedule and shuffle people around the pool of courses to try and accommodate everyone’s personal schedule. We ran out of skiable conditions on the final session of the last course (too much ice and not enough snow), so everyone agreed that we’d carry it over and finish up next season. It had been planned as a video session, so postponing to next season will allow everyone more time to tune up their technique, so all are okay with that prospect!

The unusual thaw-freeze cycles combined with virtually no new snow created semi-hazardous track conditions at times. In a late January class I had one student experiencing her first time on skis having difficulty staying upright on an icy track and finally spraining her ankle. I had to shut down that class for almost two weeks till we finally got a few centimetres of snow to cover up the ice. We did have snow during the season, but not the incredible volume or the consistent snowfalls we had last year. The only consistent thing was the incessant howling wind!

Learn to Ski Class

Early January Learn to Ski class with no ice and nice weather – not the norm for the rest of the 2014 winter! (©Kneale Quayle)

On those rare occasions when the temps rose and the wind abated, we had a few good times on the Kinsmen Park training track in downtown Saskatoon. It seemed extra special, being a welcome reprieve from the protracted brutality of a most unusual Saskatchewan winter!

Our Learn to Ski Plus Course which includes a day trip to Eb’s Ski Trails, got off to a shaky start with marginal highway conditions. I had contemplated cancelling due to a forecast of snow and blowing snow on the roads. But finally decided to bite the bullet and go. After an hour or two the snow backed off and the wind dropped a bit. In the Nesbit Forest where the trails are located, it turned out to be a fairly pleasant day. Happily our trip coincided with the Nordic Ski Club’s Open House event, so we took in the free wiener roast and socializing. There is more info and directions, a trail map and tips on skiing at Eb’s Trails here.

Skiers at Ebs Ski Trails

Skiers big and small at Eb’s Trails enjoying one of those precious few nice ski days (©canoeski)

Young skier in Kinsmen Park

This young lass skiing with her parents during Family Ski Day in Kinsmen Park is bundled up for -20 in spite of sunshine and -2 temps! (©canoeski)

A final bright spot in our winter of discontent was our last day of ideal skiing in the City on the February 17 Family Day holiday when the temps zoomed up to -2º C, the sun shone on fresh snow, no wind, and droves of people came out to the Nordic Club’s Family Ski in the Park. I spent the morning grooming the track for the event and a blessed afternoon on skis with camera capturing some of the action.

After that it was mostly dodging between slush and ice with the odd good ski day in between. We’ve still got plenty of polar air (-12 this am and struggling to reach a hi of -3 today, Apr. 1st) for decent skiing, but only dustings of new snow. Would be nice to finish the season off with a skiing flourish, but looks like we’re SOL on that!

My discontent is fueled by a feeling of having been “robbed” of a decent season of skiing. But like a farmer, one can always hope for better times next year!

Now it’s time to kiss the trails good-bye, wait for the big thaw coming soon and leave the Park to the birds!
Canada Geese in Kinsmen Park




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