Ribbon Creek tracksetter Jeff: Thanks for the tracks!

Ribbon Creek Tracksetter Jeff

Skiers in the SkierBob universe will ski for the last time this winter on tracks made by Ribbon Creek tracksetter Jeff. He is retiring after 38 years of tracksetting on the Ribbon Creek, Kananaskis Village, Skogan Pass and Bill Milne trails. 

Early-season packing on Skogan Pass. Nov 18, 2010

The first tracks I ever skied on back in 1997 were set by Jeff. At the time, I didn’t have a clue how they were made or who was making them. I remember how perfect they were, and how much fun I had. It got me off to a good start in my xc skiing career. 

Building a re-route around the Bill Milne ice-floe. Feb 7, 2019

Jeff was setting tracks before the Nakiska downhill ski area was built on long-gone trails known as Stump Meadows, Timber trail, and a longer Coal Mine.

You can see the results of his handiwork on the header of this blog. All three photos are from the Bill Milne trail(formerly known as the Evan-Thomas trail). 

Jeff was a pacesetter when it came to communicating trail conditions. His early-season photos taken right from the snowcat as he was grooming were much appreciated by my readers over the past few years. 

Early days with the Bombardier Bombi

I asked Jeff for some background regarding his long and storied career as a trails supervisor and tracksetter…

“I started grooming in the winter of 83-84 at that time there were 3 of us. My first ever track I laid down was on the Kananaskis Golf Course. For two winters we had about  10 km of trails there. Our go to machine was an Alpine Skidoo with Bachler twin tracksetters. 

Tracksetter Jeff

We also had over 68 km of groomed trails around Ribbon Creek. 

In 1985 our old maintenance foreman thought it would be a great idea to have a little snowcat. We got a Bombardier Bombi. It really wasn’t much more than a glorified snowmobile but it had the power to pull. We had all kinds of homemade drag groomers that made the trails at least skiable. 

Tracksetter Jeff

I think it was around 1987 we got our first Pisten Bulley. A PB130. That machine was what transformed ski grooming in Kananaskis(Darwyn at Cypress is still using it).

With the larger snowcat and interest in xcountry skiing starting to grow, we had to transform the ski trails. All of the trails were widened and catted to as smooth as we could make them to allow for low snow grooming. New wider bridges were installed, brushing and so on. 

Click for a larger image

In the early years summers had a 10 person crew and we spent most of  the time installing bridges, drainages , campgrounds and keeping up to all the issues with a new 365 km trail network.”

Jeff and his wife Anne will be moving to Quebec where they will be closer to family. 

As for future plans, Jeff commented, “I’m retiring but I’ve already lined up a part time job in Quebec transforming an old xcountry ski area into what it used to be. Also training new groomers to carry on this sport.”

16 Comments:

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  1. Thanks, Jeff. I always enjoyed skiing your tracksetting. Skogan Pass, my favorite, has the most elevation of any trails I ski. And Bill Milne – well, its the flattest. So you covered both ends of the spectrum. Enjoy your retirement , and thank you..

  2. Chris, Peter & Kazzy Thomas

    So long Jeff, and thanks for all the tracks!

  3. Jeff – Thanks for the many years of great tracksetting! When the weather is very cold, Skogan Pass is my favourite trail. The extreme cold greatly improves grip on the ascent and reduces the need to snowplow on the descent. Very little of the trail is flat or low angle descent where you’d notice the impaired glide. Having enough layers to survive the wind chill on the descent is challenging though!

    Enjoy your retirement in Quebec. I’m sure Alex has been well-trained to carry on the great work the two of you (and others?) have been doing.

  4. Merci Jeff pour ton travail assidu à tracer les pistes pendant toutes ces années. Grâce à toi et ton expertise, on a pu pratiquer un sport de glisse dans des conditions excellentes. Bon retour au Québec et fais-nous savoir qu’elles seront les pistes que tu y traceras!

  5. Hello Jeff, I had the pleasure to meet you a few years ago and I remember you telling me all about pre-Nakiska trails that you had groomed. Just for my sake, on YouTube there is 2015 video of the Skogan pass grooming, was it you?
    Skogan pass and shootouts are my favourite place for a good workout and many thanks for the prefect grooming.
    Bonne retraite au Quebec et un grand merci pour toutes ces années!
    Cordialement.

  6. Wow, everyone is retiring this winter. What a shame, we’ll miss Jeff’s tracks. Hopefully someone will take over and this isn’t an excuse for the government to end grooming at Ribbon Creek?

  7. It’s good to hear that your knowledge and skills will continue to benefit skiers. And bikers too, I’m guessing. Sounds like Alberta’s loss is Quebec’s gain! Thanks for going above and beyond, Jeff.

  8. Owning a place in Lac Des Arcs (purchased in ’93) made this whole area at Ribbon Creek “my” Nordic Centre. Those many deep snowfalls made Ribbon Creek such a joy to ski. It was and still is a Winter Wonderland. Just last Friday we skied up Coal Mine in perfect conditions; I guess in hindsight, it was in your honour although Alex, your well trained successor, might have groomed it. After Kovach’s loop we skied down from the Hotel (is that trail really called Bill Milne Paved Trail as my Gaia would suggest?) back down to the car, a wonderful pot pourri. It would be awesome if you would list the Top Ten Beefs from an EXPERT Groomer’s perspective before you leave us. Thank you Jeff for your years of service to our deeply loved Kananaskis Country.

  9. Thank you, Jeff, for your years of dedication! Your retirement is well-deserved! You will surely be missed. All the best to you in your future adventures!

  10. Thanks for all your hard work on the trails, Jeff. I skied on your tracksetting in the 1980’s . How lucky we all were — and are — to have teams like yours. Best wishes for your move to Quebec!

  11. Many thanks to tracksetter Jeff for the his superb tracks in Kananaskis country. You’ll be missed.

  12. What a week of announcements for the x-country community. Another loss it feels but a very deserved retirement for Jeff. Hopefully he is able to pass on his skills before he leaves!
    Thank you Jeff for hours of blissful trails we enjoyed because of you. We have been skiing here since the mid 90’s so we owe a lot of memorable skiing days to you!

  13. MAKE ALBERTA A DEMOCRACY

    What a fantastic story of the early days of Jeff the Groomer. His early grooming career occurred at a time when the Alberta economy was hurting from very high interest rates, the American oil pull out in protest of the National Energy Program and oil as low as $12 per barrel, about 4 times lower than todays rate of $58.27/ WTI per barrel. This was an age that people in Calgary were selling homes for $1 because the economy was so brutal. Yet the Alberta Government had some intelligence to expand cross country skiing at the time to benefit the health of Albertans and to expand our tourism industry which would help the government books in the longer run. The Progressive Conservative government of the day had so much more tourism vision back in the 1980’s as compared to recent years with the elimination of new open pit coal mines in the mountains, expansion of parks and xc ski trails.

    It would be great to expand the story on Jeff and get more details. I wonder how much input he had on expanding the xc ski trails to make way for the first Piston Bully. It must have been a glorious day to step into such modern technology. He could have been stuck in a Tucker Cat instead!

    To hear that the first Piston Bulley used in the Eastern Slopes of Alberta, which was bought way back in the last century, is still in use today in the glorious Eastern Alberta Cypress Hills is fabulous That is another clear example of why it is better for the government to buy good equipment rather than leasing it. The savings are superior this way and it reduces the cost for xc tracksetting and grooming which is something we all want to see.

    Too bad Jeff is heading to Quebec to retire. Lucky Quebec that will benefit from Alberta’s brain drain. Jeff’s experience would be valuable for the next new Alberta Government after the 2023 election in order to upgrade the Alberta XC ski tourism industry here for the next 7 generations.

  14. Thank you Jeff – wish you all the best in the move!! The trails are always such a dream to glide on. Ribbon creek is where we discovered our love for XC skiing !

  15. All the best to Jeff, wishing him a long and happy retirement. Many thanks for a great job on the trails, I am fortunate enough to have been able to enjoy them these last few years.

  16. Skiing on your tracks in Kananaskis has been pure pleasure! I’m so glad my toddlers got to enjoy your trails on your last season with us too! Your retirement plans sound perfect. Best wishes to you, your wife, and those lucky Quebecois skiers! 🙂

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