Clubs: Black Jack Ski Club
by John Symon
The Black Jack Ski Club (BJSC) was founded in 1983. The club has 40 kilometres of trails on approximately 1,855 acres (750 hectares) owned by the municipality, Selkirk Forest Products and the B.C. Ministry of Forests. The nearby town of Rossland, B.C. has an altitude (3,410 feet/1,039 metres) that almost exceeds its population (3,556).
“We have a great working relationship with all the landowners that aligns well with a long-term vision that sustains the club,” explains Matt Tonner, BJSC'S president. “Recently, some logging by the Ministry of Forests was completed in a few areas. Prior to the work kicking off, the ministry got us involved so that the roads built to access the logged areas could be useful for ski trails. It's been a really great experience for the club, the ministry and contractors doing the work.
“We have consistently had over 700 members for the past three seasons. The typical member is a resident of Rossland (one in six Rossland dwellers are Black Jack members!). Ages vary from three to 90, and the type of skier is also varied. The club is very adamant on making the facility accessible and comfortable for all types of skiers and demographics. As a result, we have a member base with a huge range of skill and athletic ability, but all keen to ski and get involved.
“Probably the largest demographic is families with kids in the skier-development program, where the parents/adults use the trails primarily in the evenings for a weekly exercise activity. As we are only a five-minute drive from town, when people go `out for a ski,' they actually get to spend most of the time skiing, as opposed to driving to the facility. Lots of people in Rossland use Nordic as a workout to keep fit for another activity, be it downhill skiing, biking, running, hockey, etc.”
Those families might also take advantage of the ski school, with some 100 participants through its Bunnies, Jack Rabbits, Track Attack, Junior and Senior races. This program drives membership sales, as the parents often become members once their children enter these programs that provide a great range of development opportunities. Jack Rabbits meet twice a week, and the program becomes more varied as the participants age. Some famous skiers can be found around the club, including former Olympian George Grey, an alumnus of the ski school who remains active at BJSC. Dave Wood, Canada's winningest cross-country ski national team head coach, who's tenure included Team Canada's most successful years, lives in Rossland and coaches at Black Jack. Downhiller Nancy Greene, who won Canada's first Olympic gold in skiing (1968), can be seen around town.
For those who can't find enough daylight hours for skiing, there is a 2.5-kilometre lit loop, and BJSC is also open in the evenings for headlamp skiing. The Dog Loop is a 2.2-kilometre circuit that offers pet owners the opportunity to exercise their pooch and also keeps the canines off the main trails. “We have little to no issues with dogs on the trails because of this facility. We also offer Dog-loop-only ski passes at a reduced price.”
The biathlon area is connected to the main trails through an eight-kilometre trail. It also has a separate parking lot approximately 10 minutes up the road. Biathlon participants meet every Sunday when the range is open. This area also serves as the club's early- and late-season ski location, as it sits approximately 400 metres higher than the main trailhead and has snow from November to May.
Asked if the nearby Red Rock alpine-ski area hinders BJSC, Tonner said it doesn't: “Both of these facilities are engrained in the community and use each other as marketing tools. The relationship is solid and we don't see ourselves as competitors, but rather as complements to each other.”
The club's loppet participation varies, but generally draws 100 skiers of all ages and abilities. Distances vary from one to 30 kilometres in a mass-start freestyle event. There is also a team entry, so that friends can enter and ski a 10-kilometre recreational distance and finish together. BJSC often also hosts Nor-am races as well as one of the five Kootenay Cup races that attract racers from Nelson, Revelstoke, Fernie, Kimberly and sometimes teams from the U.S.
“The high elevation of the trails makes us a prime location for early-season races. The event draws from a very keen and enthusiastic volunteer base in town that helps organize things,” says Tonner. “And skiing at BJSC is not just for members; visitors are encouraged and welcomed.”