To Shred or Not to Shred

Shinning a light on McGill’s skiing community

Sophia Gorbounov, Managing Editor

When I reached the ripe age of three, my dad plopped me into my first pair of skis. As I slipped and slid down the bunny hills, there was no way of knowing that skiing, and later snowboarding, would become my only hobby.

Growing up in Ontario, winters were an unavoidable yearly occurrence. Even bundled in snow pants and three different scarves, I dreaded the cold. I greatly preferred summer to winter and counted the weeks until the temperature reached double digits. But, when I was eight years old, I made the switch from skiing to snowboarding. Suddenly, my enjoyment of winter increased, and I had something to look forward to during the cold months.

Every year, my family went on ski trips to New England. The mountains were big, and the snow was plentiful, allowing my younger self to learn and perfect her snowboarding. After many falls and a few near-death experiences, I became surer on my feet (or rather, one long foot). My standing-to-falling ratio steadily increased while my passion for the sport grew. I was finally on par with my older brother’s skiing speed and I started looking forward to the weeks spent on the mountain surrounded by snow.

With everyone in my family skiing in different comfort zones, I was often left to face the slopes alone. However, snowboarding on my own did not hinder the times I spent carving down hills. The current pandemic has put a long pause on many sports, especially team sports, but snowboarding has remained a source of solace and consistent bliss, even as the rest of my world continues to change every day.

Winter sports are a privilege I was lucky enough to have. Moving to Montreal, I learned about the numerous skiing and snowboarding communities at McGill and throughout Quebec. Student groups, like the McGill Outdoors Club and the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Ski and Snowboard Club , also offer discounts to offset the costs of these activities. Even if skill levels vary between every person, the love and enjoyment of winter sports is something we can all share.

Abigail Vikstrom, U2 Engineering

Skiing has been a part of Vikstrom’s life since she was a toddler. She had her first cross-country ski race when she was seven, and in high school, Vikstrom was a varsity captain and raced competitively. Nowadays, she skis recreationally.

“I definitely consider skiing a hobby, and I love it for numerous reasons,” Vikstrom said. “Cross-country skiing for me is something to be enjoyed as a lifelong sport, either with companions or individually.”

When it comes to cross-country skiing, Vikstrom says both the physical and mental health benefits are a clear front-runner.

“Similar to running, cross-country skiing is a great sport to just plug in some earbuds and get into a rhythm,” Vikstrom said. “Luckily, living [in the Milton-Parc community] means I am a three-minute walk away from Mount Royal, which boasts 22 kilometres of cross-country ski trails.”

The pandemic has put many hopes of competitive cross-country skiing on pause, but Vikstrom still hopes to resume her passion in the future.

Unlike her lifetime involvement with cross-country, it was not until coming to McGill that Vikstrom began visiting mountains more regularly for downhill skiing. She joined the SSMU Ski Club in her second year, finding it to be a perfect opportunity for sampling different mountains in Quebec.

Vikstrom has enjoyed both cross-country skiing and downhill skiing throughout her life. To her, cross-country is an activity for all ages, and racing is a unique and rewarding experience.

Although perhaps less accessible than cross-country, which requires no mountain, Vikstrom still feels strongly about downhill skiing and thoroughly enjoys it.

“Ultimately, I feel like downhill skiing is a great bonding activity and a way to be outdoors in the beautiful snow of winter,” Vikstrom said.

Julius Stroock, U2 Arts and Science

Stroock is the captain of McGill's Nordic Ski Club. Stroock started classic cross-country skiing when he was very young, going with his parents, but he only started competing when he came to McGill. Cross-country skiing can be divided into classic and skate skiing; Stroock participates in both.

“One of [the] things I really value about cross-country skiing over a lot of other winter activities is that, especially in Montreal, you can just go out and do it,” Stroock said. “You don’t need to prepare, you don’t need to drive out somewhere far [….] I could go out on the street right now, find some unplowed streets and just go for it.”

Understandably, the exercise from cross-country skiing is valuable to Stroock.

“It’s an amazing workout,” Stroock said. “Especially for times like right now, with COVID and remote learning, it allows me to go out and get some serious exercise in a time where I could just as easily be stuck inside doing nothing [.…] It makes the rest of the day feel like you’ve done something.”

With the competitions currently halted, Stroock explained that skiing has transitioned from a lifestyle to a hobby, but only temporarily.

“In a normal year, [the Nordic Ski Club] would have races every weekend,” Stroock said. “We generally race in a U.S. circuit, so normally we’d be racing every weekend and crossing the border every weekend. Right now, it’s very much just something I do for fun and to relax.”

Stroock particularly holds backcountry skiing, or skiing on unmarked terrain, dear to his heart.

“Being able to go out on trails, where you’re the first person on that snow […] whenever there’s opportunity to break your own track and be in the wilderness with the silence of fresh snow in the woods, nothing makes any sound, that’s one of the experiences I value most with skiing,” Stroock said.

Win Felgenhauer, U1 Science

Felgenhauer only started skiing three years ago. Originally from North Carolina, moving to Montreal made the sport much more geographically accessible for him.

“There’s barely any skiing in North Carolina. You have to go really far to the West, and even then, it’s nothing compared to Tremblant,” Felgenhauer said.

In fact, it was those that Felgenhauer met at McGill who encouraged him to dive into skiing.

“Once I came [to McGill], I met all the ski club members from Frosh,” Felgenhauer said. “Then, even though I had almost zero experience skiing, I signed up to be a first year rep which really got me into it.”

In three short years, Felgenhauer has sharpened his skills, now holding the Vice-President (VP) Finance position of the SSMU Ski Club. Though the club’s social aspects are a plus, Felgenhauer enjoys the solitude of skiing alone, and the rewarding feeling that shredding provides at the end of a long day.

“You get into a sort of meditative mindset,” Felgenhauer said. “It’s so relaxing. After skiing, I sleep so well every single time [….] I like the people you meet, but it’s the exercise and relaxation of it [that makes skiing enjoyable].”

Despite the adrenaline rush from speeding down the mountain alone, Felgenhauer still emphasized the community that he gained, regardless of anyone’s skill level.

“You have people where it’s their first time skiing ever and you also have people who are born and raised in Whistler, but everyone can still get along [and] there’s always stuff for everyone to do,” Felgenhauer said.

Speaking to the memories he has made since beginning his skiing journey, Felgenhauer recalled coaching his friend during her first experience on a run.

“One of my favourite parts of last year was taking one of my friends who was skiing for the first time [.…] We got there, and I said, ‘Let’s go to the top and I’ll teach you on the way down,’” Felgenhauer said.

Needless to say, this strategy did not go smoothly at first, but was nevertheless fun for everyone. It did not matter that their skiing levels were so different—Felgenhauer maintained that teaching his friend was as rewarding as the sport itself.

Ethan Cox, U2 Arts

Cox is the VP Events for SSMU Ski Club, and has been skiing his whole life. Growing up, Cox would visit his cousins in Utah and enjoy skiing in solitude. Hailing from Connecticut, Cox said moving to Montreal was particularly exciting.

“[Montreal has] some of the best East Coast skiing, even some of the other hills that don’t seem too big coming from Whistler, but you start to love the East Coast and the way people ski out here,” Cox said.

Skiing was a hobby for Cox, but becoming an executive member of the SSMU Ski Club turned the winter sport into a lifestyle.

“This year, my entire academic schedule is basically [structured] around opening days [of mountains] so that I can ski,” Cox said. “Growing up, [skiing became] almost [a] habit. Oh, snow? I should go ski. I also play hockey, so unlike most people I like winter the most. My best activities are during the winter.”

Being a university student in a community full of regular skiers, silly stories build up over time. In his first year, when Cox was getting to know the SSMU Ski Club executives, they took him under their wing.

“[My friend] had the great idea of going down the mountain with our butts hanging out […]” Cox said. “We were in Bromont and there was a nice quiet hill, so we decided to go tarps off. That’s the kind of stuff that brings [skiing with friends] together at the end of the day, making friends with [people in] the ski club, especially McGill’s ski club.”

“[My friend] had the great idea of going down the mountain with our butts hanging out […]” Cox said. “We were in Bromont and there was a nice quiet hill, so we decided to go tarps off. That’s the kind of stuff that brings [skiing with friends] together at the end of the day, making friends with [people in] the ski club, especially McGill’s ski club.”

The social aspects of Cox’s experience with SSMU Ski Club play a large role in his love of the sport.

“It’s so easy to just get on the bus and be able to meet new people where you obviously have at least one thing in common,” Cox said.

Like Felgenhauer, Cox explained that skill level is not a barrier to enjoying yourself on the hill.

“Even if you’re sitting with someone who has skied their whole life and it’s your first run ever, you’re still skiing,” Cox said.

It can be challenging to start a new activity, especially one as daunting as skiing or snowboarding. The necessary purchases can be expensive. and the learning process discouraging. However, Cox maintained that the key is to persevere.

“It can be really frustrating when you first start, especially with snowboarding,” Cox said. “But that’s another part of it. [You] go out two or three times, and from there, you’re only going to get better.”

Skiing and snowboarding are not easy to master. The effort that goes into perfecting the craft is both energy intensive and time consuming. However, the reward is immeasurable, and the experience unforgettable.

“You don’t get to go that fast usually, unless you’re in a mechanized vehicle, so going down the mountain, it’s exhilarating,” Cox said. “It’s tiring, but at the end you feel so good.”

Designed by Ruobing Chen