Looking ahead to a new season on the SJAM

By Jacob Hoytema – 

Before their first full season last winter, the organizers of the Sir John A. MacDonald (SJAM) Winter Trail envisioned the trail becoming a regular community fixture where Ottawans could enjoy many types of winter sports. With a new season soon to begin, head groomer Dave Adams says the trail is quickly carving its own space in the Ottawa winter landscape.

Dave Adams says the Sir John A. MacDonald (SJAM) Winter Trail is quickly carving its own space in the Ottawa winter landscape. File photo by Ellen Bond
Dave Adams says the Sir John A. MacDonald (SJAM) Winter Trail is quickly carving its own space in the Ottawa winter landscape. File photo by Ellen Bond

Just like in its debut season, the SJAM Winter Trail will stretch from Westboro Beach to the Canadian War Museum. Last year, visitors from Kitchissippi and around the city traversed the trail on skis, snowshoes, “fatbikes,” or simply on foot.

In November, organizers launched the fundraiser for this year’s trail, aimed at a $20,000 target to support the costs of grooming and maintenance. As of writing, they’ve already surpassed a third of their goal.

Dave says that this trail will have a number of small tweaks and improvements over last year’s. Most notably, the fieldhouse at Champlain Park will now be integrated into the route. During times that the Champlain Park outdoor ice rink is open, visitors to the trail will be able to use the fieldhouse as a warm indoor space to rest up or change into their gear.

Extending the trail to Champlain Park represents not only a jump from NCC land to city-owned land, it also means closing off a portion of Pontiac street on the Park’s north end.

The whole trail is already a collaboration between the Dovercourt Recreation Association and the NCC. The Champlain Park initiative required even more bureaucratic cross-government cooperation. As such, Dave is quite vocal in praising both the NCC and Kitchissippi Ward Councillor, Jeff Leiper, who assisted with the project.

“You can just imagine what kind of work would be involved to actually convince the powers-that-be to shut down a road to make more green space. That’s just not a trivial thing,” Dave says. “It’s an example of how different bureaucracies can successfully work together and get stuff done.”

Dave and his team of groomers will also be adding more tracks on the trail for those using the “classic-style” skiing technique. He says that according to last year’s post-season survey, more skiers preferred that style, in which the skis are parallel to one another, to “ski-skating,” in which the skis are at an angle.

Dave says he was also surprised by how many survey respondents came from outside of the neighbourhood. “I thought it was primarily local use, but we were noticing people coming from the South of Ottawa, beyond Kanata… a few people in Gatineau,” Dave says.

While he is “delighted” at the wide popularity, this meant that parking was an issue for accommodating all the visitors. As such, organizers are examining the possibility of cutting through to Tunney’s Pasture with the aim of adding more parking on weekends.

There’s no set opening date yet — the team has to wait for deep enough snow to begin grooming. They are also undaunted by predictions of a milder winter. “[The trail] is very robust and versatile to crazy conditions,” Dave says, explaining that he can work with above-zero temperatures as long as there’s enough snow.

The trail is also sponsored this year by Fresh Air Experience, a winter sporting store that will be “right on the trail” renting out skis and fatbikes, which are like regular bikes, but with wider tires to displace weight.

Those seeking to donate to the trail fundraiser, or learn more about the trail, can visit wintertrail.ca.

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