Ottawa

Skiers seeking pandemic escape making tracks for SJAM Winter Trail

Ottawans eager for some fresh air, exercise and perhaps an escape from the home office during the COVID-19 pandemic have been flocking to a popular cross-country skiing trail along the Ottawa River in unprecedented numbers this winter.

Early February saw visits to popular trail increase four-fold over last year

Susan Declerck says she's rediscovering winter after avoiding it for a decade. Most days, that means a visit to Ottawa's SJAM Winter Trail. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Ottawans eager for some fresh air, exercise and perhaps an escape from the home office during the COVID-19 pandemic have been flocking to a popular cross-country skiing trail along the Ottawa River in unprecedented numbers this winter.

Between Feb. 1 and 7, the National Capital Commission (NCC) recorded an average 1,353 visits per day to the 18-kilometre-plus Sir John A. Macdonald (SJAM) Winter Trail, which runs parallel to the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway west of the city's downtown.

By comparison, between Feb. 1 and March 31, 2020, the trail averaged just 341 users per day, though the fear and uncertainty of early days of the pandemic might have had a role to play in the relatively meagre turnout.

People just love, I guess, getting some space in the city.- Dave Adams, head groomer

Dave Adams, the SJAM Winter Trail's head groomer, said more than 2,000 people flocked there Sunday.

"I'm nearly brought to tears. People just come up to me and say ... 'You're saving me. You're getting me through this horrible winter and you're my escape.' And so truly, I'm touched," Adams said.

Camil Laprise said he would normally be skiing in Gatineau Park, but had decided to heed public health advice and stay on his side of the Ottawa River. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Following the heavy overnight snowfall, it took his team of volunteers nine hours to groom the main trail, plus additional offshoots including a track in a field beside the Canadian War Museum.

"People are flocking to [the new track], to our surprise," Adams said. "It kind of started out as a joke. It's not a joke anymore. People just love it. People just love, I guess, getting some space in the city."

"That's what I'm doing, enjoying winter," said Camil Laprise, one of the skiers to hit the freshly groomed trail Tuesday. "It's quite popular."

Beginner Susan Declerck said she's just learning to enjoy the cold again after spending most previous winters overseas.

"Cross-country is all new to me, and so is winter. I've been avoiding it for a decade or so, and then I thought, 'Well, let's get into winter.'"

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