Estimated time to read: 8 minutes

Michael Muir

Land Manager

In winter, part of the Capital Pathway transforms into a network of multi-use winter trails. Over 100 kilometres of trails in Ottawa are groomed for shared winter recreational activities. But it doesn’t happen by itself: many local volunteers (or as I like to call them, our snow heroes!) are behind this fabulous trail network available to everyone free of charge.

Maintaining the trails requires a lot of work and care. The partnership between the NCC and the community depends on hard-working, early-rising, cold-braving and passionate individuals.

Let’s hear from some of them.

Bert Michaud, volunteer at the Rideau Winter Trail

I have been a volunteer with Rideau Winter Trail since 2020. I am a senior groomer and the lead on maintenance for our equipment. As an electrical engineer, I am passionate about designing and modifying the electrical equipment we use. I can spend countless hours researching, buying parts and repairing machines. I find this work very rewarding – it’s like a puzzle.

Bert M

Admittedly, my favourite part of the job is grooming the trails – when the snow cooperates. There is no better feeling than going out to groom a perfect 10 centimetres of fresh snow. Depending on when the snow stops, I will go out grooming at all hours of the day. Sometimes this means grooming at midnight or even 4 am. The peacefulness of the winter landscape keeps me going, and I have even seen a few nighttime visitors along the trails, the highlights being foxes and a snowy owl.

I have learned so much about snow and am now one of the main people who decides when to groom. You may see me along the trail putting a thermometer in the snow to decide if the temperature of the snow is right for grooming. Grooming can take anywhere from three to five hours, but I had one memorable day last year where I groomed for 12 hours straight! The Rideau Winter Trail network feels like you are in a forest when really, you are minutes away from downtown Ottawa. The Hurdman LRT station is basically on our trail, so people can get off the LRT and start skiing immediately.

Seeing the smiling faces of skiers on the trails and being stopped and told how much people appreciate the work I do makes this volunteer experience so worthwhile.

Frank Roscoe, volunteer at the Orleans Nordic Ski Club

I am the President of the Orleans Nordic Ski Club, a certified CANSI Nordic ski instructor, and the lead (and only) groomer for the Orleans trail network. I joined the Orleans Nordic Ski Club 35 years ago and became president of the club in 1999. To say winter goes by fast is an understatement, but I love what I do.

Frank Roscoe

For me, a typical day of grooming will start by getting the machinery prepared. Luckily, it is not a far commute, as I keep all the equipment in my garage. I first hook up the trailer to my car, then load the snowmobile onto the back of the trailer. Then, it’s time to hit the road. I drive to three different areas to groom: Hornet’s Nest , Mer Bleue and Pine Grove.

If we have a heavy snowfall, it can take me up to six hours to groom the trails. Grooming and setting the tracks is not a high-speed operation. I say that grooming is about as exciting as sitting on your living room couch (the maximum speed we can drive is about 12 km per hour). If I groom too fast, the tracks will be wiggly, which nobody wants! I groom and set the tracks about 30 to 40 times per season.

Something that makes all this time worthwhile is seeing people out skiing and enjoying nature –especially children, who are just getting into the sport. I remember one time when I was grooming, I saw a young girl trying to catch snowflakes on her tongue and just enjoying the feeling of snow on her face. Anybody can enjoy cross-country skiing!

The Orleans Ski Club is mostly on Greenbelt land, so you can ski through the forest. There are quite a few hills on these trails, which adds to the excitement for skiers. This year, our club bought a new snowmobile with wheels, so I will be able to groom the trails for more spring skiing.

James Battye, volunteer at the Britannia Winter Trail

James Battye on a snowmobile, wearing a helmet and waving

I have been a volunteer with the Britannia Winter Trail since 2019 and I have worn many hats! As a snow groomer coordinator, I do hands-on work such as teaching our new volunteer groomers, marking hazards, clearing the trail and informing the public of the conditions on social media. I also have an administrative role as a board member as I participate in discussions and vote on decisions to improve the trail.

The beauty of volunteering is the unexpected. I will always remember the year when we had to store the equipment in my garage at home. Every day, at 6 am and 8 pm, I had to move my car and help the volunteers get the equipment out. Volunteering also gives back in its own way. It allowed me to introduce my children to cross-country skiing, and I got to know my community.

Needless to say, winters keep me busy! As a high school physical education teacher and coach, I find volunteering is another way to keep my passion for sports alive. I enjoy cross-country skiing right outside my door and, hopefully, our work will make you discover that great feeling too.

Roger Colbeck, volunteer at the Ottawa West Winter Trail

Roger Colbeck in his winter gear

My involvement with community trails began in 2019, when a colleague of mine introduced me to the world of grooming. I was a trail user at the time, commuting on my winter bike from Westboro to Kanata.

Today, I am the coordinator and a groomer for the Ottawa West Winter Trail, maintained by the Kanata Nordic Ski Club. I liaise with the NCC and other stakeholders and coordinate a small group of volunteers. I also have a hand in most aspects of the trail, such as pre-season preparation, signage, sponsorship, fundraising and social media. My favourite part of the job is my grooming shifts. I enjoy the dialogue with the community and our users, and seeing the great smiles or hearing about people’s outings.

I retired from the field of electrical engineering in 2020. Maintaining a balance between volunteering and free time has been interesting, as I'm sure I could work full time on the trail (there's just so much to do!). So far, pushing my limits and staying active in my community has made retirement very rewarding!

Maggie Glossop, volunteer at the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail

Maggie Glossop sculpting three snow bears along the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail

Have you ever noticed snow bears along the Kichi Sibi woods? Carving these bears is probably my most important role on the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail and it has earned me the Bear Lady nickname.

I build the bears when the snow is soft and sticky and place them sitting on tree stumps, climbing up the trees or lounging on branches. The bears need constant work to keep them looking fit, as warm sunny weather melts them very quickly. For the last two years, by the time spring called a halt to my bear-making activities, there were 18 to 20 bears to be found if you looked carefully.

Rarely does a day in the woods pass without a skier or walker telling me how much they enjoy the trails and my bears. It makes my day when families tell me it was the lure of the “bear hunt” that got them out even when the weather wasn’t the best.

In the off-season, I help keep the trails of the Kichi Sibi woods clear of deadfall and the encroaching invasive buckthorn bushes. I help Groomer Peter (my brother, another major snow hero) prepare and put up and take down the snow fence along the trail by the river once winter has arrived. I also help him create wind breaks from recycled Christmas trees and shovel a lot of snow.

Yuri Locmelis, volunteer at Ski Heritage East

Yuri Locmelis welding equipment for Ski Heritage East

I am a self-employed property developer and manager, husband and husky owner and in my spare time, I volunteer at Ski Heritage East. Since 2018, I have maintained and repaired the trails. My passion for metal forging also made me a great fit for the team’s grooming attachment fabricator.

A typical day as a volunteer starts late at night, when the temperatures drop and when there are fewer people on the trails. First, we assess the machinery and grooming equipment for damage and establish what work needs to be done to get the trails in shape. New snowfall typically means we are working a little longer than usual, but it is all worth the extra effort! It can take up to eight hours of work for the entirety of our network.

Working late at night has its perks: I’ve had the chance to see wildlife up close, which usually does not happen during the day. For instance, earlier this year, I waited for a beaver to bring its stash of wood across the trail to the river before I could continue grooming the trail. Not the typical type of traffic everyone gets to experience in their lifetime!

I believe everyone should try to volunteer for something they are passionate about. For me, it has been working with Ski Heritage East. Giving back to the community which I grew up in has been truly a rewarding experience. I enjoy seeing people fly down our trails having a great time.

Interested in discovering our local community trails? Check out our list of community winter trails. And if you venture out on the trails, be sure to say hello to our snow heroes!

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