In 2000, I was helping the Manitoba Recreational Trails Association (MRTA) in its mammoth effort to establish a route through Manitoba for the Trans Canada Trail. Our province's portion of the Trans Canada Trail is about 1,400 km. That's right -- 1,400 km.
One of the greatest challenges with this really big trail was, and still is, getting it through our farming belt. You cannot bisect a grain field, you mustn't tread where livestock tread, and it is imperative to respect private property.
So imagine my surprise when along comes David Lumgair. He had heard about the Trans Canada Trail, and the idea of a national trail captured his vivid imagination. He was so excited by the concept that he approached the MRTA and asked them to run the route through his property -- a choice location along the Manitoba escarpment. Here was a farmer I just had to meet.
My first encounter with Dave was on the edge of a field he'd been harrowing just west of Morden. When he saw me, he headed right over, tractor and all. He dismounted with some difficulty and I noticed his knees were so stiff that he'd lassoed them together for support. After a minute or so of whacking the layers of grit off his overalls, (no temperature controlled cab for this guy) out shot his hand, which engulfed mine in a hearty, bone-crushing handshake.
So now it is 10 years later, with numerous visits under our belt, and I'm off to see Dave again. It's like old times, except Dave has a new knee and a new mission.
At 77 years old, Dave has retired from farming. However, his energy and fire have not diminished; they have been redirected: Dave has decided Manitobans should get off their butts and take better care of their health. To that end (pun intended), he has spent the last decade building and maintaining five classic cross-country ski trails (about 20 kilometres in total) and seven kilometres of skate-ski trails through his property. His motto: "Fresh air is health care. Help yourself!"
The Shannondale Ski Trails (named after Shannon Creek) wind their way up, down and sideways through the Thornhill coulee. The classic ski trails are rated from gentle -- 30 metres of elevation, to challenging -- a gain of 150 metres of elevation.
The weather for skiing has been ideal and these perfectly groomed trails have plenty of snow on them. There are several choices as to how to descend the 30 metres to the bottom of the ravine. Dave kindly directs me to the easy route. I find it exhilarating to travel downhill on a gently graded track for an extended amount of time. The scenery is head-turning, which is not advisable when you're traveling on two sticks! The warm sun has made the snow wet and fast, which is fun on the way down. I find going uphill grueling and there's no grip, unless you're Dave, who passes me like I'm going backwards (and he hasn't waxed his skies for two weeks).
I'm allowed to stop frequently to catch my breath and that's when Dave ambushes me. He loves a good joke, but prefers a bad one. He's a deep thinker and an educator at heart -- and he knows the land and the history, even pointing out the spot where "Bruce" was found.
Bruce, of course, is a 13-metre long mosasaur, the fiercest of marine reptiles. Oh, don't worry -- he's a fossil, and a mere 80 million years old. Bruce is the largest specimen in Canada. The Pembina Hills area, which Shannon Creek runs though, is a treasure trove for fossils. In two years alone 30 mosasaur and 20 plesiosaur specimens were excavated from the ground. Bruce is housed at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre (formerly the Morden and District Museum).
We had a lovely day skiing at Shannondale. There's plenty of topography -- which is as beautiful as it is challenging to ski, but as Dave said, "if you don't fall, you're not trying hard enough."
I must have been trying really hard.
Jacquie Crone writes a blog for Travel Manitoba and you can read more of her stories and view her photographs at http://www.unexpectedmanitoba.com/author/jcrone.
How to get there
Shannondale is located eight kilometres west of Morden on Hwy. 3. Turn north at the Thornhill turnoff (RR34). Then go 2.6 kilometres. Turn into the yard with the red barns and the Lumgair Seeds sign. Trail maps are available by the sign-in book and donation box.