There’s never been a better time to take up cross-country skiing.

Ski-Vent-Clic – which maintains more than 18 kilometres of cross-country ski trails that form a circuit with various loops around Vankleek Hill – had a banner year in 2021, with 240 members signing up. With Ontario having implemented new public health care regulations on Monday (January 3), the club is expecting another busy year in 2022.

“Last year was a phenomenal year, possibly due to COVID,” said Karl Holmes, secretary of Ski Vent Clic, speaking prior to Monday’s announcement of the new regulations. “I think once the snow comes people will start signing up again.”

As of last week, Ski Vent Clic already had 120 members for this season, thanks to a pre-Christmas special. Ski Vent Click adult passes are available for the 2022 ski season for $40, or $80 for a family pass. Memberships are free for children under 13. Passes are available for the 2022 ski season through the club’s new website. You can also contact Ski Vent Clic for information by messaging through its Facebook Page, or by email at [email protected]. The club provides email notifications of trail conditions to anyone on its mailing list.

The low cost of an annual membership, the proximity of the trails to Vankleek Hill, exercise and outdoor socializing are what attracts many newcomers to the sport.

“It’s not expensive, we’re outdoors and socially distant,” Holmes noted. “We had more families joining last year than ever before.”

About 60 per cent of those who use the trails are from Vankleek Hill, however visitors also come from communities throughout the region and as far away as Ottawa and Montreal. When conditions allow it to be open, Beau’s Brewery in Vankleek Hill is a popular attraction for out-of-town skiers using the local trails.

“Beau’s helped us out there for a few years, because that’s a natural place to go after a hard day of skiing,” Holmes laughed.

Although the local trails are not open, there is one spot were newcomers to the sport and those who want to try out new equipment can visit. The paved portion of the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail between Highway 34 and Cassburn Road has sufficient snow for a short jaunt on skis.

“If somebody wants to go out and try their new Christmas skis they can do it there,” Holmes said. “It’s not groomed, but it is passable.”

Due to the nature of the scenic trails around Vankleek Hill, there needs to be a significant snowfall to allow the entire route to open.

“So many of our trails are in the woods,” Holmes explained, “Before we even groom the trails we have to run it through with a groomer and heavy sledge to pack the trail.”

Ski Vent Clic’s 18 kilometres of trails are maintained by volunteers and are almost entirely on private land that property owners have given permission to the club to use. Maintaining the trails requires more than just grooming the trails in winter, as when landowners make changes to their property volunteers with Ski Vent Clic have to modify the trails route.

“There are changes every year, because so much of our trail passes over private property,” Ski Vent Clic’s secretary explains. “Every year we go out and have to rework the trail and find a new way of getting around something, or put in a bridge to get over a ditch,”

Landowners are supportive of the club, Holmes says.

“We have the full cooperation of everybody whose land we have permission to cross.”

A major supporter of Ski Vent Clic is Champlain Township, which provides a grant to the club each year. Ski Vent trails are available free to the public during the township’s winter festival held each February and Holmes says the club has a great relationship with the township’s recreation department.

To accommodate visitors, all of the major trail entries have a payment system using a QR code on their phone. Non-club members can purchase a day pass for $8 and skiers who want to just use the trails for a day are encouraged to donate using their phones via PayPal by scanning the QR code on the signage.

“This is the way we capture people who come to just stay for the day, or who are friends of somebody,” Holmes said. “We operate on the honour system.”

Volunteers from Ski Vent Clic at work on the trails in November of 2021. Photo courtesy Ski Vent Clic

Ski-Vent-Clic maintains more than 18 kilometres of cross-country ski trails that form a circuit with various loops around Vankleek Hill. Photo courtesy Ski Vent Clic

Map of the Ski Vent Clic trails around Vankleek Hill.