Ski for Schools creates new opportunities on the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail

Many pairs of skis are all lines up in a row.
The Ski for Schools program helps children enjoy the outdoors during winter. Provided Photo.

By Millie Farley

Skis for Schools is a not-for-profit that supplies cross-country ski equipment and programming for kids. 

For six years, the organization has been helping school classes ski on the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail.

With winter weather in full swing, KT sat down with program coordinator Michelle Richardson to find out more about the work they do and how youth can get involved. Answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

KT: What is the goal of the Skis For Schools Program?

MR: Our goal is to create opportunities for children to be actively engaged outside through the enjoyment of cross-country skiing. Last year, of our 1019 participants, we were pleased to introduce over 285 students, many of whom were new Canadians, to the sport of skiing.

We welcome any school that is able to get to our “Nordic Village” location at Remic Rapids. We are very happy to see many local schools participate, including St-François d’Assise, Connaught, Summit, Elmdale, St. George, Hilson, Churchill, and Cambridge. This year we have schools attending from as far east as Orleans, and as far west as Kanata. We have a large parking lot to welcome buses.

KT: What equipment does the program have?

MR: At the moment we have an inventory of over 130 sets of skis, over 200 pairs of boots, and thanks to the support of Fresh Air Experience, 40 new sets of telescopic poles. Our inventory of ski equipment is suitable for students aged 8 to 18 or older.

We recently received a private donation from an individual with a deep personal history of skiing who heard about our program, believes deeply in the value of introducing kids to the sport of skiing, and who wanted to offer support. This unexpected gift allowed us to purchase 10 new pairs of waxless skis to add to our collection!  

We are constantly seeking to grow our inventory so we may accommodate more and more students. Our challenge going forward is that we are using an obsolete boot and binding system (SNS). Much of the equipment that we receive through donations has already had lots of use. Our goal in the not-too-distant future is to raise enough funds to purchase only waxless skis, and to upgrade our boots and bindings to the current industry norm, NNN system.

Our daily operations are run by dedicated volunteers who organise equipment in advance of each school visit, and maintain the equipment throughout the season.

Michelle poses for a photo outside.
Michelle Richardson runs the Ski for Schools program. Provided Photo.

KT: How can the public donate money and equipment?

MR: Skis for Schools is supported and funded by the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail (KSWT) charitable organization. Financial donations can be made through the KSWT donation page.

We gratefully receive used cross-country ski equipment (classic skis, boots and bindings) to add to our inventory. We are using the SNS binding system at this time. Donations may be dropped off at the Reception Desk at Dovercourt Recreation Centre.  

KT: How can teachers register?

MR: Our booking calendar opens on Oct. 1. Teachers are asked to look at the booking calendar on our website, select a date, and then send us an email. Our season opens in January as soon as the trail is established. We run until the school March Break or [until] the snow runs out.

KT: How is the program accessible?

MR: We do not “rent” our equipment or charge a fee. Instead, we ask schools and groups who are able to make a donation to the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail. Five dollars per student is suggested. However, we never want funding to be a barrier to participation. We simply want to get kids on skis!

We have a collection of snowshoes for those unable to access our ski equipment. As an urban winter trail, it is suitable for skiing and also walking, biking and snowshoeing.  

KT: Why did you decide to get involved with Skis For Schools?

MR: A conversation with [trail groomer] Dave Adams about my imminent retirement [from teaching] sparked my interest. I was looking for a way to use skills I have developed as a teacher, to continue working with kids, to spend time outdoors, and to give back to my community. The role of Program Coordinator for the Skis for Schools Program checks all the boxes!

Leave a comment