By Andrea Arnold

The Yellowhead Ski Club in McBride has seen an increase in local membership applications this season. So far, 50 people—46 locals and four non-local cross country skiers—have paid and registered. Last year, the club had 31 paid local members and 13 members from surrounding areas. The 20 km of groomed trails off the Belle Mountain parking lot at 4.5 km have been a popular location for winter fun this year.

This map shows the 20 km of trails maintained by the Yellowhead Ski Club in McBride./SUBMITTED

“It has been amazing to see the families out skiing, and new skiers who are just trying it out for the first time,” said Brenda Monroe, club secretary. “Our trails are really busy and we have new ski club members and volunteer groomers.”

Membership is on the honour system. There is no checking for tickets or passes on the hill. “We have had quite a few visitors to the trails who haven’t bought a membership as well, so it’s hard to know the real total,” said Monroe.

Membership forms are available at the Info Centre, the McBride and District Public Library, and on the Yellowhead Ski Club Facebook page. The cost of membership is adult $27, youth $7, or family $60. Children under 5 are free. In addition to the membership fee, each person (including the children) is asked to pay a $19 Cross Country BC fee for their third party sports liability policy.

Birgit Stutz and her dog Skidboot frequently travel the newly created snowshoe trails on Belle Mountain. The trailhead is located on the west side of the parking lot at 4.5 km./Bettina Schmid

The non-local membership numbers have been directly impacted by COVID restrictions.

“We have seen a marked decrease in non-local memberships,” said Monroe. “Unfortunately, we cannot open our Pine Lake cabin for overnight stays due to COVID. This cabin used to be booked by Prince George, Hinton, and Jasper skiers, and they would purchase a membership.”

With more local skiers, they are hoping the numbers will balance out.

For people wanting to check out the sport for the first time, or to get back into it without gear on hand, the Dunster Fine Arts School has a supply of cross country skis, boots and poles available for loan out.

“At any given time, I’d say we have 30 sets loaned out,” said Katharina MacNaughton, Chair of the school. Inquiries about equipment availability can be made at the Dunster Store.

Elizabeth Trask and her children have visited the Belle Mountain cross country ski trails several times this season. It is a great way to get out for fresh air and exercise./ANDREA ARNOLD

The trails are groomed by a team of volunteers. Membership fees only cover the fuel needed by the groomers.

“We often need to apply to the Regional District for grants,” said Monroe. “This year with help from the Regional District grant, we have hired equipment to come in and brush willows, dig ditches, and remediate flooded areas,” she said. “Our grant also paid for new metal signs on the trails, and for renovations to the old A-frame cabin at the trailhead to make it safe and usable again.”

Cross Country skiing is not the only non motorized recreational activity available on Belle Mountain. “We have a trail sharing agreement with the Robson Valley Back Country Horsemen,” said Monroe. “They have been working to improve the 10 km trail which benefits both clubs.”

In a joint statement, Brian Wallace, president of the Yellowhead Ski Club, and Eileen MacDonald, BCHBC Robson Valley Chapter president talk about the option of snowshoeing on the new Belle horse trails. “These trails have been very well used by people of all ages especially over the Christmas season,” they said. The snowshoe trailhead is marked by a yellow sign at the west side of the Belle recreation trails parking lot situated at 4.5 Km on the Belle Forest Road.

“Belle Mountain is truly transitioning into a communal recreation area for multi-user recreation including skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, hiking, and horseback trail riding,” MacDonald and Wallace said.