Neil Manhard had a vision for the 100 Mile Nordic Ski Society.
When he walked what would become the 99 Mile cross-country ski trails in 1984, he planned out where trails, cabins and the lodge would one day go. Using humour and quiet determination, he gathered a team of like-minded individuals to make his vision a reality.
“He was one of the two driving forces behind forming the ski club, Ray Ostby was the other one,” recalled Gary Carlson, Manhard’s friend of 40 years, during an interview at the lodge last week. “There’s nothing you can look up here that he hasn’t been instrumental in doing.”
The cross-country skiing community from 100 Mile House to across the province and even Canada – is mourning the loss of Manhard, who died Feb. 2. He was 77.
Nordics president Chris Keam said they plan to create a permanent memorial to Manhard at the end of this season.
“It is hard to overstate Neil’s contributions to the 100 Mile Nordic Ski Society,” Keam said. “Our trails and infrastructure, skills development program for youth, and ongoing mission to share the fun of recreational and competitive Nordic skiing all bear the stamp of Neil’s passion for the sport and our club. He will be sorely missed.”
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Manhard was introduced to skiing by his wife Georgia, who bought him a pair of skis to break his obsession with hockey. He fell in love with the sport, building his own trails on his ranch near Forest Grove.
“There were no cross-country ski trails in 100 Mile House at that time so I made my own,” Manhard wrote in an account of the club’s history. “I made a track setter and pulled it around with my tractor. I skied every day out my back door.”
Manhard decided to share his enthusiasm for the sport with his children and their classmates, spending every Monday coaching at a different school in the area. In 1978, he organized a mini-marathon with Jim Keller and Donna and Jack Barnett.
This marathon would form the basis of the 100 Mile Nordics. Manhard and Keller started taking coaching courses and organized a local junior racing team. Around 400 children enrolled locally, making the South Cariboo Cross Country Ski Society’s junior program the largest in Canada. It won the BC Championships club trophy six times, starting in 1982.
At the time, they didn’t have a regular course to practice on. Carlson said Manhard built lip tracks in 108 Mile Ranch and in the 101 Mile meadow, near where the Co-Op Gas Station is today.
Manhard and Ostby decided to move operations to 99 Mile in 1984, due to its higher elevation. They transported several old cabins, including the waxing hut and timing cabin, to an old gravel pit and began building the trails out from there.
In 1986, Manhard, who spent most of his life as a BC Hydro lineman and later foreman, lit the trails with 100 lights bought from BC Hydro, which he rigged and hung with help of several volunteers. Lighting the trails was important as it allowed his students to practice for longer during the day.
Maryanne Capnerhurst, the Nordic’s vice president, first met Manhard in 1989 when she started working for BC Hydro. Up until 2016, whenever a tree went down across a line at the Nordics, she said Manhard would be the one who would climb up there and fix it.
“We always used to laugh because he was very strong and made it look easy,” Capnerhurst said.
Carlson, now the Nordics coaching coordinator, said Manhard was a mentor to him and other parents. He taught Carlson how to properly wax skis, a skill that saw Carlson become the BC Ski Team’s wax technician, and convinced him to become a coach.
“Neil and I went through all the coaching certification courses together,” Carlson said. “Neil actually had Level four and five, which is the highest you can do but I didn’t have that. I just did Level two and three with him. He was always ahead of me and a good mentor.”
Despite being a driving force behind the Nordics, Manhard never became the club’s president. He was content to be the executive’s trail designer.
Carlson said he spent many hours hiking what would eventually become the Gentle Giant trail with Manhard. As they marked it out, Manhard always seemed to have a clear vision of the end result.
“Neil always said that when you’re walking those trails you really have no idea how they’re going to ski. He was blessed because he made us some wonderful trails up there for recreation,” Capnerhurst said. “He had a big vision and we did the grunt work.”
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Other changes, such as moving the Beanstock Cabin to the top of Gentle Giant, opening up the lodge, offering equipment rentals and building snowshoe trails were also Manhard’s ideas. They all served to boost the popularity of the club.
Even as he got older, Manhard remained a central part of the Nordics. In 2019, he led the push for the installation of a new lighting system using underground power cables.
“It took all of the executives to improve it but it was his gentle nudge (that inspired us). He was very good at that,” Capnerhurst said. “He was always very positive, always very encouraging and I think that’s what kept us all together.”
Carlson said Manhard maintained a positive outlook to the end, even when he wasn’t able to visit the ski hill he had spent so much of his life building.
“I think his legacy is strong because he has passed it on to so many people, I can’t ever see it going downhill,” Carlson said. “We’re going to maintain this the way he wanted. What he has done here is a lasting legacy.”
With the support of his family, Cross Country B.C. has created a fundraiser in Manhard’s name. Donations collected will be used to further special education opportunities for B.C. ski coaches. The fundraiser can be found at canadahelps.org by looking up “In Memory of Neil Manhard.”
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