For the first time ever in its 35-year history, the Ptub Ski Races are not going ahead because of warm weather.
“We are cancelling the Ptubs this year,” said Kathleen Groenewegen, the president of the Hay River Ski Club, speaking on March 22. “We don’t have enough snow and the little bits that are left are patchy and they’re very icy. So we’re expecting more snow to recede over the week and there just isn’t enough snow.”
The 35th-annual Ptub Ski Races, along with a Polar Cup Biathlon Race, had been set for March 30 and March 31 at the Hay River Nordic Centre.
Groenewegen admitted it was disappointing that the races had to be cancelled.
“We had a lot of kids that were really, really looking forward to it,” she noted.
The club held an end-of-season event on March 24, consisting of a fun biathlon and skiing, along with other activities.
Groenewegen noticed the ski trails started to deteriorate in mid-March, and they were closed during the day.
“You can still ski when it’s below zero without degrading the trails much,” she said. “It’s just when it’s above zero when you’re skiing on them. It really accelerates the loss of snow.”
David MacDonald, the secretary of the ski club, said it is the first time that the Ptub Ski Races have had to be cancelled because of warm weather.
“There’s already bare ground poking through some of our packed trails, and we had about three feet of snow this year,” he said. “Usually it’s the packed areas that go last, depending on where on the course they are and how much sun they get.”
MacDonald noted that the temperatures are forecasted to be cooler this week, but the sun is still strong and affecting the snow.
“We were left with no choice,” he said of cancelling the Ptubs. “We won’t have snow to run, for sure.”
While the races have never before been cancelled because of warm temperatures, MacDonald noted they were cancelled four or five years ago by extremely cold weather.
Neither Groenewegen nor MacDonald seemed ready to say if the date of the Ptub races might be moved earlier into March next year to avoid possibly warm weather once again.
“I’m not sure, yet,” said Groenewegen. “We have to have it not too cold. We have to have it warm enough that we can actually hold the races because the ski races won’t happen if it’s colder than -25 or so…. You have to find the sweet spot of winter and snow. We’ve had it the last weekend in March for years and years. We’ll probably talk about it.”
MacDonald noted that the Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse, Yukon, are set next year for early March, and some skiers from the NWT will be attending that event.
“I can’t see why we would go different next year just because this is a one-off,” he said of this month’s warm weather. “But if we do go earlier, it would be a week earlier, I would suspect.”
The Ptub Ski Races are a popular event each March, and are viewed by many as a wrap-up to the skiing season.
This year, about 50 people were expected, including participants from Fort Smith, Yellowknife, Fort Providence, Fort Resolution, and the Alberta communities of High Level and Fort Vermilion.
“It’s very family friendly,” said Groenewegen. “We have adult races, recreation races, loppets, races for the tiny, tiny children and older youth. Really everyone can get involved.”
The Ptub Ski Races and the Polar Cup Biathlon Race are normally held as separate events, but were to take place at the same time this year.
The Ptub Ski Races are sponsored by the Ptarmigan Inn and The Hub.
The races were not the only events cancelled in Hay River this month because of the warm temperatures.
The Polar Pond Hockey tournament, which had been set for March 22 to March 24, also did not go ahead after it became impossible to maintain skating surfaces on the rapidly melting ice on the Hay River in front of Fisherman’s Wharf.