West Bragg Creek Cross Country Ski Trails
In 1976/77 Don Gardner was involved in a multi ministry planning process leading to the establishment of Kananaskis Country. Don Gardner proposed the development of trails in the West Bragg Creek area due to the short driving distance from Calgary and the potential to develop loops of groomed XC ski trails. At that time, the concept of groomed ski trails was virtually unknown in Alberta. Cross Country skiing was really just touring on hiking trails and fire roads. The concept of loop trails at West Bragg Creek was accepted into the planning process.
The Government of Alberta created Kananaskis Country on October 7, 1977. In 1978/79 Don Gardner designed the initial phase of the West Bragg Creek Cross Country Ski Trails.
The bulk of the construction of the WBC XC ski trails occurred in 1979. Most of the trail network was made by adding purpose built ski trail segments to pre-existing industrial roads and cut lines. The 1980 trail system included: Crystal Line, Sundog, Elbow Trail, Hostel Loop, Telephone Loop and Moose Loop.
It is important to note that the entire West Bragg Creek Cross Country Ski Trail System was designed and built as a winter use only ski trail network. There was no tread or drainage work done to make the trails sustainable for summer use. Most water crossings were meant to be used only when the streams and marshes froze over. Any documentation, such as trail maps or guidebooks or Alberta Government policy documents refer to the West Bragg Creek trail only as cross country ski trails.
Several new trails were added in the 1982. Floods in the mid1980s damaged low lying portions of multiple trails requiring construction of extensive re routes.
West Bragg Creek had been the proposed site for the 1988 Winter Olympics, when Calgary won the bid for those games. Initial planning was started to upgrade the WBC trail system to an competition design, but concerns about the unreliable snow and Chinook patterns and complaints from Bragg Creek residents initiated a search for alternative locations. As a result, the Olympic Nordic Centre moved to Canmore.
Cross Country Ski Trails Grooming in Bragg Creek
The XC ski trails were groomed by Alberta Parks from 1979/80 to 1992/93 on an approximately bi-weekly basis, Dec 1 to Mar 31, weather and snow coverage permitting. The grooming was a bit more frequent mid December to the end of February and tapered off to just once or twice in March.
Cutbacks to the Alberta Parks budget between 1992 and 2005 reduced trail maintenance and ski trail grooming until it was virtually nonexistent. Several ski trails were abandoned during that period In response to this, West Bragg Creek residents Darrell and Alison Jones, donated funds to the Friends of Kananaskis Country in 2003 to have the ski trail system upgraded.
In 2006, Don Gardner, the original trail system designer, using funds donated by the Jones, initiated volunteer ski track setting. In 2007, the volunteer track setting was amalgamated with the Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association (aka BCT), under the auspices of the WBC ski committee, who now work in partnership with Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation (TPR) staff. The BCT ski committee subsequently raised over $ 45,000, mostly through donations from Albertans and MEC, to purchase modern equipment to do the majority of the ski track setting and grooming in WBC.
The official groomed cross country ski trail network in 2009 totalled 43.3km and in 2017 after completion of the West Bragg Creek All Seasons Trails Plan ( WBCASTP) now stands at 66 km.
Since 2014 the ski grooming operation has experienced an exponential revamp of it’s operational, maintenance, and safety programs. From 2014 to 2017 summer ski trails revitalization has seen the installation of over 60 culverts to provide drainage for trails making them usable year round. Over $6000 of Parks approved seed has been planted to restore disturbed sites. Parks accredited contractors have been hired to widen, drain, level and regrade trails as well as to install 4 km of new cross country ski tread. Trails have been brushed of alder regeneration to both widen trails and remove unsafe obstacles. Each year in September all ski trails are mowed to provide a flat base for grooming. Over 3000 volunteer hours have been logged on the WBC ski trail system since 2014.
All volunteers operating chainsaws carry either basic chainsaw or higher-level accreditation. All ATV operators have completed an ATV safety course run by Alberta Parks officials.
A dedicated Head groomer, Dr Jeff Hughes, has overseen the cross-country ski grooming operation since 2014. He oversees the scheduling and work of volunteer groomers all of which have completed an accredited snowmobile safety course. The most experienced volunteers have been grooming with the BCT since 2006. All groomers must complete pre and post grooming inspections of all equipment. Sled operators must wear CSA approved snowmobile helmets, warm snowmobile suits gloves and boots and high visibility BCT vests. Groomers carry VHF radios on all grooming runs.
Since 2014 all grooming runs are logged on a Google Docs site. This comprehensive document logs date, time, groomers, temperature, snowfall, task description, hours on task, safety checks, and comments and repair issues for over 530 grooming related tasks. The site also documents “snag lists”, sled checks, Kei truck checks, end of shift tasks, grooming schedule, parts inventory, to do list, qualifications and a comparison chart of different Nordic Ski areas. We believe there is not a more comprehensive documentation in Alberta of volunteer ski grooming operations.
The BCT inventory of grooming equipment is an impressive investment of donated dollars. We maintain two grooming specific sleds – a 2009 Yamaha VK pro and a 2017 Arctic cat Bearcat. Repairs are largely carried out ‘in house’ and documented in the Google docs logs. BCT grooms with 3 roller packers and 3 Ginzu groomers all purchased from Yellowstone Tracking Systems. We also have an inventory of sundry toboggans for snow harvesting and hand tools.
In 2015/2016 BCT implemented one of the most progressive additions to grooming operations of any Volunteer group in Western Canada with the purchase and retrofit of a Japanese Kei class mini truck. This robust truck was fitted with a durable track system that makes it an outstanding and safe grooming machine. The machine provides a warm cab for groomers. The pulling capacity of the Kei truck far exceeds that of grooming specific sleds. The truck provides on board storage for first aid kits, fire extinguishers, warming kits, tools and capacity to medevac injured patients. Numerous successful transports of injured or sick trails users have been completed with the use of this truck. The truck has garnered interest from numerous other grooming operations that are contemplating following our lead. A second Kei truck was placed into service for the 2017/2018 season. Repairs of trucks are done by BCT.
In 2020, thanks to an out pouring of donations, BCT added the amazing ‘Snow Rabbit’ snowcat to our fleet!
Hours of grooming have also increased exponentially with 850+ hours being logged for ski trails grooming and equipment maintenance between September 2016 and March 2017. BCT has demonstrated a direct link between hours of ski trails grooming and user visits to WBC ski trails. There is also a demonstrable economic benefit to the businesses in Bragg Creek, which have tied economic redevelopment to WBC trails and their users year round.
In 2016 volunteers from the BCT ski Committee dedicated over 700 hrs retrofitting a donated 50 ft ATCO Trailer for use as a Trails Centre/Warming hut which is installed as a centre piece to the 2.5 million dollar WBC parking lot redevelopment. All necessary permits are maintained. A grid connect will be completed in November 2017. The facility operates 9-5 daily with after hours access via keypad code. Numerous sick or injured trails users have been staged in the Trails Centre while awaiting EMS transport.
Within the Trails Centre BCT arranged the installation of an AED obtained thru the Kananaskis Improvement district KPAD project. This is available for all trails users.
In all the years of ski trails grooming in West Bragg Creek there has never been a reported incident of ski grooming or trails maintenance related volunteer injury or illness.
Dr Jeff Hughes and the BCT grooming team were awarded Cross Country Alberta’s Outstanding Ski Area Operations award for 2016/2017.