Now and Then: Innovation and dedication on skis

Flin Flon has a long history of involvement with the sport of skiing going back to 1932, when those of Scandinavian origin and other daredevils built a ski-jump near the north end of Bellevue Avenue.

A resurgence of interest in skiing in the mid-1950s brought about the formation of the Flin Flon Ski and Toboggan Club under the aegis of the Community Club, aka HBM&S. The club found a spot amongst the rock and swamps south of Centoba Park and volunteer crews were soon on hand slashing and cutting bush for their new ski hill slope.

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An old shack clubhouse was put in place and skiing was soon underway. Not satisfied with having to pole back up the hill, and ever the parents of invention, the Flin Flon ski enthusiasts stripped down a 1937 car and used its engine, abandoned car and truck wheels and the necessary supports to create the first ski rope tow north of 54! There were some trying times, though. As quoted from Gail Baker’s history of the ski club, “Getting the old car started on a cold winter morning was a co-operative effort of many people. After warming the oil pan with a blowtorch and hooking up a warm battery, the engine was turned over by someone on the starter, someone on the crank, and several people pulling on the rope to turn over the rear wheels. When it did finally start a cheer reverberated through the valley.”

The next major improvement saw volunteer and HBM&S crews join forces to run a hydro line to the ski hill. Volunteers dug holes for the poles while The Company provided materials and strung the lines. Now its lights, heat, a telephone line, a PA system and farewell to the cantankerous car motor!

Things just kept getting better with the addition of more runs, jumps, a new club house and eventually the inclusion of cross country ski trails. Scores of volunteers spent hundreds of hours brushing out, clearing rocks, levelling slag and, under the expert hand of Norm Crerar, dynamiting where necessary. Hey! It’s Flin Flon. Just get ‘er done!

Thus, thanks to dedicated volunteers and the support of many businesses and community agencies – and the spirit of innovation – Flin Flon and area residents can now proudly claim to have Manitoba’s best cross country ski trails with 28 kms of trails that course through the beauty of the northern forest. The trailhead is in close proximity to town, and trails are well maintained and include two kms of lighted trails, allowing for evening skiing until 10:00 pm. The club is involved in many competitions, hosts a junior club and sponsors the annual Centaloppet that has been a major community event for 43 years.

Innovation as the operative word is well illustrated by this flashback to the mid 1950s. As a teenager, Stewart Bexton was part of the Flin Flon ski revival. According to Stew, cross country skis were not readily available back in the day, so he simply took a pair of regular skis and ran them through a bench saw. Viola! Cross country skis! Bindings? He drilled a couple of grommet holes for leather toe straps and then used a couple of his mother’s rubber sealer rings that he stretched from his heel to the leather strap thus ensuring he would not lose his skis in progress…sort of. Stew’s other innovation was to screw a pair of old running shoes onto his downhill skis. Good plan, eh? That is until he took off on a downhill run at Phantom Lake, encountered an object that caused a sudden stop which resulted in him continuing his flight still adorned with running shoe tops – the soles remaining attached to the skis! Flin Flon innovation! What to do but pick up your skis and walk back to town.

“The snow was dry, so my socks didn’t get that wet,” said Stew.

The story of the development of skiing over some 60 years of volunteer endeavour is so very typical of the spirit that created this wonderful community so many fondly call their hometown. Whether we have been away for a while or many years, or are newcomers, there is nothing like that get ‘er done Flin Flon spirit!

The Flin Flon Ski Club history is available at www.flinflonskiclub.com

© Copyright Flin Flon Reminder

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