Saturday Skiing

cross country skiingThe snow-covered school grounds in Montreal Lake Cree Nation have always had skiers slide the slopes during the cold winter months, but over the past few years the number of skiers has been increasing with the Saturday Skiing program.

Most adults and youth in the community who have attended Senator Allan Bird Memorial School (SABM) can remember a few days of gym class where all the students would ven­ture outside and explore the school yard from a new physical perspective – on skiis! This winter activity has grown from a school-based program that happened a couple days each winter to include a grass-roots and competitive program - all because of the accessibility of equipment and supportive envi­ronment created by key recreation leaders in the community.


Donna Penner is the Community & School Recreation Coordi­nator (CSRC) and has started up a weekend ski program for children and youth, called Saturday Skiing. About five years ago, thirty sets of classic cross country ski equipment were donated to the school. Without this equipment, the program would simply not be possible. One of the great things about skiing is that anyone can participate! The Saturday Skiing program sees children and youth ages 7 to 17 participating altogether.


Donna has been a CSRC for close to four years and knows how to run a successful program. The equipment room is neatly organized by size and participants get individually measured and matched to the best fitting pieces. Donna also takes the time to wax each pair of skis herself. Not to say that there isn’t a little chaos at the beginning of each session. With thirty kids putting on boots and awkwardly bundling skis and poles under their arms, there is bound to be a few trips and tumbles – but everyone gets in and excitedly outside in a relatively organized fashion.


Outside, the participants scurry around the school grounds making tracks as they go. The older kids generally race to the small hill, while the younger ones spend most of their time learning how to fall and get up with smiles on their faces. Donna says her biggest challenge with this program is keeping track of and monitoring everyone. While her biggest success is seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces and their genuine enjoyment of being outside and active in nature. The program lasts about two hours and then it’s time to come in from the cold – Donna is firm with the program end-time, to ensure no child is left outside when it starts to get dark. As in most of her programs, a healthy snack and water conclude the fun. Nutrition plays a big role in the success of the commu­nity’s after-school programs – it also helps make the healthy choice the easy choice.


From the Saturday Ski Program, Donna can identify youth with a natural talent and affinity towards the sport. She recommends those youth to participate in the competitive program, which is led by high school teacher, Liza Bird. Liza works with the youth and prepares them for competition, including the upcoming annual Northern School Ski Champi­onships in La Ronge.


In 2016, the school was successful in their application for the Aboriginal Community Sport Development Grant and received $5,000, which they used to purchase ten pairs of brand new ski packages. The SABM School Skiing Team uses this equipment for training and competition. The Northern Sport, Culture & Recreation District’s Ski Fit North Field Consultant will also be working with the team on their skate ski tech­nique this winter and there is hope that maybe next year, the community can work towards establishing and maintaining designated ski trails.


The progression of Cross Country Skiing in Montreal Lake is just one example of how the community is creating a support­ive environment, both physically - through access to adequate equipment and a safe environment - and socially - through caring adult leaders who promote participation and healthy lifestyle choices. All of which foster healthy individuals and community connectedness!


Brandy Smart

Program Manager, Northern Community & School Recreation Coordinator Program

This article was previously featured in the Spring 2017 issue of DIRECTION Magazine, "Supportive Environments". Original publication date: March 2017.