The Hay River Ski Club (HRSC) is running out of cash due to government funding cuts.

The club’s budget has been cut by almost two-thirds, with the loss of about $33,000 per year from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs’ Legacy Retailer Grant Program, a five-year interim arrangement put in place after it, and other non-profits, were refused funding from NWT Lotteries back in 2014.

In a stark assessment of the club’s finances, a Dec. 12 news release states, “it is simply not feasible for the HRSC to take on fundraising our annual operational budget in addition to being responsible for maintaining the trails and facilities and providing a wide variety of recreational and sporting programs. The very existence of the HRSC is at risk.”

The club’s future has been put in jeopardy with the loss of about $33,000 per year from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs’ Legacy Retailer Grant Program, a five-year interim arrangement put in place after it, and other non-profits, were refused funding from NWT Lotteries back in 2014. Photo courtesy of the HRSC

The club can survive this season and the next thanks to the terreitorial government’s NGO Stabilization Fund, but “after that, the financial future of the ski club becomes very unclear.”

MACA rejected multiple grant funding applications from the club though a “(Regional Youth Sport Events Program) application was re-submitted and eventually approved for one third of the amount requested. It is evident that submitting applications is one step, but receiving funds is another,” it states.

The release states MACA advised the ski club to appeal to the Town of Hay River and Cross Country NWT, its territorial sports organization, for funds but “neither the town nor our TSO has committed to providing financial support to the ski club and have re-directed us back to MACA.”

“The HRSC is caught in the middle, and no permanent funding source from any level of government or agency has emerged,” it continues.

Trails supervisor and biathlon coach Chuck Lirette, who has been involved with the club for about 18 years, said “the ski club is important to a lot of people in Hay River.” Photo courtesy of the HRSC

Trails supervisor and biathlon coach Chuck Lirette, who has been involved with the club for about 18 years, said “the ski club is important to a lot of people in Hay River.” Photo courtesy of the HRSC

At the club’s 2021 annual general meeting, members sanctioned a 50% fee increase for adults and 35% for families to help plug some of the gap left by the drop in government funding.

In addition, the club has partnered with the Hay River Golf Club to host the ‘Chase the Ace’ fundraiser.

BREAKER: Ski club ‘important to a lot of people in Hay River’

Trails supervisor and biathlon coach Chuck Lirette said he was “very surprised to have our funding completely cut and that they had no intention of renewing it.”

The club’s annual operating budget is about $50,000 per year, which pays for everything to run the facility from fuel to equipment repairs and replacement, he said.

One of the biggest expenses is electricity as the club has about five kilometres of lighted trail, which can cost up to $12,000 a year.

Replacing the old lights with more energy efficient LEDs would save the club $2,000 to $3,000 a year in operating costs, said Lirette, but a grant from the GNWT to undertake the project was recently denied “and we tried with the town in terms of their Community Enhancement Program to see if we could get the funding that would allow us to swap out the lights and we just recently learned that their finance committee is going to recommend that that be denied as well.”

Despite the setbacks, Lirette said he appreciates the support he has received from Hay River MLAs, Rocky and R.J. Simpson and from the community at large.

After an initial appeal for support, R.J. Simpson received between 50 and 60 emails from concerned residents asking MACA to reconsider the funding cut, said Lirette, who is asking residents to email MACA Minister Shane Thompson to express support for the club.

“We really hope that our MLAs and minister Thompson from MACA agree to reverse that decision,” he said. “We estimated that we had around 600 people at the trails at one point or another during the winter last year. The ski club is important to a lot of people in Hay River.”

“I want to stress, we’re a volunteer organization,” he continued. “Nobody gets paid a salary. It’s just a group of people that put a lot of time and effort into providing the ski club and the programming to the people of Hay River and the North.”

Involved with the club in one way or another for about 18 years, Lirette called it the “unofficial biathalon capital,” of the North. “We have the 16-lane facility here, we just hosted the Polar Cup races this weekend.”

The Hay River Ski Club is the “unofficial biathalon capital,” of the North with a 16-lane facility that recently hosted the Polar Cup races. Photo courtesy of the HRSC

He also wanted to emphasize “that the Hay River Ski Club is more than just a ski club.”

“We’ve tried to try to make it a family destination,” he said. “For example, we have a tobogganing hill, we’ve put a picnic table and fire pit that people can use, we have a cabin across the river that’s a popular destination, we’ve put in bird feeders on one of our loops that people can go to.”

It also has a multi-use trail called the Tigger Trail where “you can go with boots, you can go with skis, you can go with snowshoes and you can take your dogs.”

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