After a lifetime of raising the profile of Nordic skiing in Canada, Lyle Wilson is now focusing his efforts on the Columbia Valley.
The owner of Nipika Mountain Resort president of the Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club (TCNSC), Wilson hosted two TCNSC learn-to-ski clinics at Nipika this past weekend, giving those who attended a top-notch skills clinic to help kick off the winter season.
“It’s a difficult sport,” he told participants at the classic skiing session on Saturday, December 15. The skate skiing session took place the next day on Sunday, December 16. “It’s easy to do poorly… give me an hour.”
Wilson has the credentials to turn anyone’s skiing around or send a beginner off in the right direction. Involved with the sport since a young age, he has a physical education degree and coached Nordic skiing professionally in addition to competing himself.
“I’ve coached two Olympic Games and eight world championships and I coached the national junior team for about ten years,” he said. “I was coaching internationally when skate (skiing) first came on the scene.”
His first contribution to the Nordic world was a chain of Nordic-specific sporting goods stores called Fresh Air Experience that helped develop Nordic skiing throughout Western Canada. During that time he was also one of the initial founders of CANSI (Canadian Association of Nordic Ski Instructors), which he went on to chair for a decade or so before going into full-time coaching in 1981. He’s headed up the BC ski team, and the Alberta team, then was one of three staff coaches on the national team between 1987 and 1994.
He began to build Nipika Mountain Resort with his wife Diane after he quit coaching, and though it had been a track system since 1979, the pair turned it into a business that their son now partners with them on.
Nipika, a pet-friendly outdoor recreation resort located along Settlers Road in Kootenay National Park, is the perfect getaway for self-propelled enthusiasts. On 1,500 acres nestled in the most western range of the Rocky Mountains, it offers visitors roughly 50 kilometres of Nordic ski and snowshoe trails. Another 50 km or so of single track is dedicated to mountain biking, trail running, and hiking the rest of the year.
“Because of the growth of mountain biking, trail running and hiking as destination sports, we just took the setting we’ve got so the trail system is probably one of the biggest integrated self-propelled trail systems… probably on the continent specific to those goals,” Wilson said.
In addition to the extensive trail network, the resort boasts a roomy day lodge for day-to-day traffic, complete ski and snowshoes rentals, and eight energy self-sufficient rental cabins with full housekeeping. Nipika is also home to the TCNSC ski school that runs every day with group lessons in the morning and privates throughout the day, coached by Wilson and the club’s newest addition to its coaching ranks, former World Cup cross country skier Magi Scallion.
Wilson can’t say enough about the club’s positive initiatives that it is bringing to the local communities. One program in particular really speaks to his passion for coaching kids. With grant money, the TCNSC purchased kids’ Nordic equipment and does a five-lesson series with every Grade 3 student in the valley, bringing the lessons to the schoolyards where tracks are set up with the club’s portable grooming equipment.
“My goal with kids is to get them away from their damn computer screens and pocket toys and get them living active lives again,” Wilson said, “because it’s an epidemic what’s happening with our children and so the more we can do to show kids life sports, not just sports but life sports, ones that they can do through life.”
The club also offers regular learn-to-ski program for kids — Bunnyrabbits for ages four to five, Jackrabbits ages six to nine, and Track Attack for ten and older. And it’s not too late to register, just contact the club.
And new this year for adults is a Wednesday night recreational ski night. Anyone who signs up will receive an email with the location and participants are asked to show up at 6 p.m. with a headlight.
As for facilities, the club utilizes Nipika, the Whiteway, and the Greywolf Nordic Centre at Panorama. Wilson said that Lake Lillian, which was used last year, will not be activated this winter season unless Lake Windermere’s Whiteway is totally unusable.
“We’re looking at trails along the Johnson bike trail network where there’s some nice rolling grassy roads,” he said. “If the snow is adequate, we’re going to go in and try to groom those on an experimental level.”
If it works out, valley skiers could soon have new tracks under their skis. And Wilson hopes that this year the club will attract even more members than ever before. With 150 some members last year, the club’s goal this year is to boost membership over 200.
“It’s the best endurance sport for developing fitness it doesn’t have any overuse injuries the way runners get bad knees and bad backs,” said Wilson, noting that at the Masters World Cup in Silverstar two years ago, there were four men in their nineties still ski racing. “You can do it till you drop.”
For more information on TCNSC, visit the club’s website at www.tobycreeknordic.ca. To learn more about Nipika Mountain Resort, visit www.nipika.com or call 1-877-647-4525.