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Community ski club blazes cross-country ski trails for 3 decades

'It's a very complex sport, but when you're skiing well, it seems effortless,' says Highlands Trailblazers program coordinator

Atop the hills in Duntroon, a community of athletes has skied and competed under the banner of the Highland Trailblazers. 

The Highlands Trailblazers started in the early 1990s when local skiing enthusiast Jim Sinclair began what would eventually become the beloved institution.

Larry Sinclair, Jim's son, assumed leadership in 1997 and relocated the program to its present location, right next to Duntroon Highlands golf course, now known as Highlands Nordic.

"Larry's vision was really to have a first-class ski area with a first-class racing program running out of it. And that became Highlands Trailblazers," shared Gord Salt, the program coordinator.

The program caters to athletes of all ages, from four-year-old beginners to 76-year-old seasoned masters, Salt included.

“The best thing about it is that it’s fun,” Salt said. “And so accessible.”

Highlands Trailblazers includes both cross-country skiing and biathlon, offering competitive development programs for both disciplines that start with skill development and eventually lead to race development. The race programs start in May and include a dryland training component, including a practice called “roller skiing” during the fall.

The program encourages a long-term approach to athlete development, avoiding early specialization. 

"We develop our programs so that we aren't telling kids to specialize early, the way other sports do. It's long-term athlete development," said Salt. "We have kids who are skiing really well that balance it by going on major canoe trips in the summer. It's very versatile."

Highlands Nordic and Highlands Trailblazers operate as separate entities, with participants requiring season passes for Highlands Nordic on top of their membership fee for the club, which covers race fees and other club expenses. The program's operations rely on dedicated volunteers and a few paid coaches, all of whom have undergone Safe Sport training to ensure a secure environment for young athletes.

The Trailblazers also foster camaraderie among athletes, breaking down age groups when needed to cater to the needs of individual participants. Athletes participate in races within their respective categories, except for the youngest participants in the skill development programs, who do not race.

The program's emphasis on fun and personal growth is in the spirit of inclusivity, which helps attract athletes not only from Collingwood but also from as far as Toronto and Waterloo.

"It really caters to different people's needs," said Salt. "If someone likes a thrill, the highland trails offer them that. If their thing is casually skiing with friends, then there is a great opportunity to do that as well."

Salt also emphasized the sport's rhythmic nature, its technical intricacies, and the challenges that continue to captivate him even after 50 years of involvement.

“It’s a very complex sport,” he said, “but when you’re skiing well, it seems effortless. Even if you are going uphill.”

Looking ahead, Salt hopes to reintroduce a para-nordic arm to make the club even more inclusive. 

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Maddie Johnson

About the Author: Maddie Johnson

Maddie Johnson is an early career journalist working in financial, small business, adventure and lifestyle reporting. She studied Journalism at the University of King's College, and worked in Halifax, Malta and Costa Rica before settling in Collingwood
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