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Heavy snowfall in the Outaouais region provides the ideal backdrop for residents participating in outdoor sports during the winter months.

This is especially true for cross-country skiing, the latest initiative spearheaded by the Corporation des Loisirs de Papineau (CLP), whose mission is to promote sports and recreation in its regional municipality. Papineau residents can now borrow skis and poles to experience the trails every Saturday.

Papineau RCM, QC

Charlène Raby as charged with organizing and coordinating cross-country skiing activities for beginners. Hiring the young local was made possible by the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRA) Youth Employment Experience program, a principal partner of the CLP.

Finding reliable workers is not easy!

Interested candidates are not easy to find in rural areas where workforce numbers are low. During the winter and summer months, young people leave to work or study in larger urban areas. This migration pattern also holds true in Papineau. The municipality with the support of the CPRA Youth Employment Experience program publicized the internship opportunity at the beginning of summer 2021 but there were no candidates.

Only after the internship was publicized a second time did luck fall upon Éric Desjardins and his team when Charlène, a young resident from the region, came forward as a candidate. She already knew the ins and outs of cross-country skiing and was prepared to lead activities.

People coming together

Charlène was put in charge of carrying out cross-country skiing activities for beginners until March 2022. Her team used an online platform to track the exact number of registered participants in order to reserve the necessary equipment 24 hours in advance.

Charlène had to verify the identities of participants on site and hand out the skis and poles that they reserved. She also provided helpful tips on basic skiing techniques and safety on the trails. She would even join kids and families on the trails, which exposed them to a different way of looking at the world.

Every Saturday, sessions would rotate between the different partner sites, namely the five trails at Château Montebello, at the Kenauk Nature trail network and the new trails at the Auberge Héritage Golf Club, totaling more than 80 kilometres of quality trails for outdoor enthusiasts.

Municipalities are encouraging individuals and groups to take part in cross-country skiing, free of charge between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. So far, three different time slots are available and about a dozen participants, including beginners, are signing up each week to partake in a sport that is accessible to all.

New related projects

The CLP recently made sleds available for individuals with limited mobility to take part in cross-country skiing. Participants are snugly strapped in, so they can safely move along the trails. These sleds come with skis and an adjustable safety belt.

The CLP hopes to generate excitement around this project by taking advantage of the timing of the Paralympic Winter Games, which will begin in mid-March. Organizers are already coming up with interesting ideas, such as an Olympic-style mini ski marathon to attract young people with a promising athletic future.

Excellent mentorship relationship

Éric Desjardins, who is a sports and recreation project development officer at the CLP, takes his mentorship role to heart. Although it was knowledge transfer and resource sustainability that attracted him during the program’s infancy, he says that bringing Charlène on board as a recreation coordinator was of great satisfaction for him.

Éric would meet with Charlène twice a week to refine skills and go over files, as well as complete related tasks. During these evening meetings, the young mentee was able to enrich her training, work on the small details and immerse herself in the inner workings of the organization.

Charlène enjoyed a lot of freedom in her work. The team trusted her, thus allowing the international development graduate to explore her passion for recreation and community involvement. This opportunity opened her eyes to the glaring needs requiring immediate attention and encouraged her to get more involved in working on them, providing her with even more joy.