Hallis Lake Cross-Country Ski Centre is living up to the vision Quesnel nordic skiers had more than two decades ago when the facility was first built.
In the past two weekends, the outdoor facility southeast of the city has hosted a regional biathlon competition and their annual Ski Fest event.
Next up is a major provincial cross-country ski race. For locals and winter tourists alike, this is prime time to explore the beauty and fun the trails offer, especially with a provincial spotlight about to shine brightly on our very own facility in the forest.
“We would be expecting racers from 100 Mile House all the way to Yukon,” said Ron Watteyne, a longtime instructor and board member for the Cariboo Ski Touring Club, the operators of Hallis Lake and organizers of the upcoming Northern Series Teck Cup races happening on Feb. 11 and 12. The public is welcome to come out and watch those top-calibre races and cheer on athletes from around the province.
A Teck Cup competition is a highlight for any nordic ski club’s winter, so audiences are encouraged to come out, and plenty of trails will be open for community skiers right alongside the racers.
But there’s an even bigger circle on the Hallis Lake calendar, and it’s in 2024. The Teck event is an important test for the province’s biggest podium - the BC Winter Games.
“That’s a huge event, so this will be an important way to gear up for that,” said Watteyne.
To indicate how important and impactful the BC Winter Games (BCWGs) are, to a community’s infrastructre, Quesnel can look back to the last time the Games were here - 2000 - but the ski facility was not (in the lead-up). Most of the core Hallis Lake recreation area was built specifically to host that set of events.
“A couple of trails existed before, through the Hallis Lake Community Pasture,” said Watteyne, who was there for those upgrades. “For the rest of the trails, we had a consultant come in and we tromped through the bush, and made the plans, and went to work. And now, when I look back on it all today, it’s quite surreal. Now it’s a huge facility out there and growing all the time. Just this year we went from five days a week to seven.”
During the club’s annual Ski-Fest on Jan. 22, the ski passes, lessons and rentals were free, hot lunch by Bliss Coffee, with lots of additional features to draw the public out perhaps for the first time on skis or on a visit to the facility.
“We had over 100 people show up to ski and have some fun this year,” said the ski centre’s manager James Meyer. “The weather and snow conditions were perfect. A huge thank you to all the volunteers from the ski club that worked hard behind the scenes to put on this event. We are already looking forward to Ski-Fest 2024.”
“Our club is very diverse,” said Watteyne. “We do everything from Junior Jackrabbits to biathlon, adult lessons, backcountry cabins, it’s a lot. We have a big 1,500 square foot lodge, four kilometres of lighted trails illuminated from dusk til 9 p.m. We have 35 kilometres of ski trails altogether, and there is grooming on a regular basis.”
During the pandemic lockdowns, one of the activities that had built-in social distancing protocols was nordic skiing. The club enjoyed a bump in membership during that time, but what organizers are especially proud of is the additional bump in membership this year, which just shows that once word got about about the Cariboo Ski Touring Club, people were eager to come out to Hallis Lake and enjoy it all for themselves.