The Rideau Winter Trail is a free recreational trail, groomed from Donald Street to Bank Street, for cross country skiing (skate and classic), walking, snowshoeing, and fat biking. It is run entirely by volunteers, with support from the City of Ottawa, the National Capital Commission, some government grants, amazing sponsors, and donations from community members.
RWT volunteer Martha Jeacle sat down with trail groomer Peter Nor to get a sense of the season ahead.
Martha Jeacle: Trail prep starts well in advance of snow falling. What does that involve?
Peter Nor: Prep for next season starts during the current season. We are always looking for input on how to improve the trail by listening to users, skiing, grooming, and observing where wind is blowing the snow. Then we take a break and go to do non-trail stuff! In late summer we finalize our plans for the coming season and coordinate with our partners. Important preseason activities include grass cutting, tree and brush clearing, coordination with waste removal, and snow clearing services. Our partners at the NCC and City of Ottawa are great to work with!
MJ: How do you determine when you can do the first grooming of the season?
PN: There are a couple of factors having to do mostly with avoiding damage to the land around the trail. We look for at least 10 cm of snow on the ground. In the early season we try to pack the snow as much as possible so we have a good base that will last. This means that until we get enough snow, we cannot set tracks for classic skiing without damaging the ground underneath the snow and our equipment.
MJ: When it snows during the season, how do you decide when to groom?
PN: That’s a tricky one and one that can often result in much discussion in the grooming shed. Generally, the snow needs a couple of hours to set after being groomed and before being used. Ideally, we look for temperatures in -1¡C to -10¡C range.
MJ: What kind of equipment does it take to groom an urban winter trail?
PN: We have been improving our stable of equipment every year. We use what’s considered light equipment and includes a variety of implements that are dragged behind an ATV or snowmobile. For packing deep and fluffy snow we use a roller that is basically a very large rolling pin, two feet in diameter and eight feet long. When snow is icy or compacted from being walked and skied on, the snow requires “renovation” by chopping up the hard snow and breaking it down to a nice powder. This is where our light equipment has limitations compared to a snow-cat that you would see at a ski resort but we are able to get really good results. Sometimes it just takes more passes. Once that snow is “just right” we form it into a nice corduroy pattern and if we have enough snow depth, we set tracks for classic skiing.
MJ: How long does it take to groom the RWT from end to end?
PN: It depends on which equipment we are using and the conditions. Heavy snowfalls and ice slow down operations significantly, and a full groom can easily take six to eight hours.
MJ: Do you have a favourite part of the trail (although we know you love it all!)?
PN: Grooming at night in the Hurdman Hills area is spectacular and I often see wildlife that I cannot believe lives in the city. That being said, meeting folks who are enjoying the trail anywhere makes me happy.
Please follow the RWT on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook to learn more, or visit: www.rideauwintertrail.ca.