The Silent Slalom Star of the Whiteshell

It’s a fantastic sight to see a slalom water skier cutting up a glassy calm lake, usually in the rising sun or the quiet of the evening, kicking up a wall of water with each turn and quickly zipping back across the wake. In the Whiteshell, this might be a less common sight in comparison to other water sports such as wakeboarding, wakesurfing, tubing etc. So it may come as a surprise to some to know that a professional water skier started her career in the Whiteshell and is now one of the top 10 female slalom skiers in the world. Experience the Whiteshell talks to Geena about starting out in the Whiteshell, travelling the world, and why she will always keep coming back to her roots.

1291423_10151713533411130_174525454_nThe name Geena Krueger is well-known in the water skiing world. She has travelled all over the world for tournaments, has several titles in the sport, is one of the top ten female slalom water skiers in the world, and is currently ranked third in Europe. It all started at her family cabin on Star Lake, in the Whiteshell Provincial Park.

Geena’s first experience skiing was at the family cottage on an island at Star Lake. She learned to ski at a very young age when her dad propped her up on his own skis.

“My very first memory I remember going on his skis and then I started going off the Star Lake beach on my own,” said Geena, who was only five years old when she got up on two skis. Then the next summer, at age six, she kicked off one ski and started slaloming around Star Lake.

Geena slalom skiing on Star Lake at age six.

Geena slalom skiing on Star Lake at age six.

In 1998, Geena’s family bought a cabin on Lake of the Woods (the Star Lake cabin belonged to Geena’s grandparents). On Lake of the Woods they were close neighbours to the people who owned Sportsman Marine & Ski in Winnipeg, who were the first to introduce the Kruegers to a slalom ski course and even gave them their slalom course because they didn’t use it anymore.  The Kruegers set up the course in a quiet bay on Lake of the Woods, close to their cabin.

Geena says she was about 12 or 13 years old when she started going through the slalom ski course, and she did her first tournament at Betula Lake in the Whiteshell.

“That was my first tournament, I was so nervous,” she said. “And then I did a Manitoba record, I didn’t even know what I was doing.”

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First tournament, breaks a record….. No big deal. But it was the start of what would soon become a professional career for Geena. From there she started doing a few more tournaments and then went to Rollins College in Winterpark, Florida. That’s where Geena became really serious about skiing. Geena chose to go to Rollins College because she knew that’s where she could continue to progress her water skiing career.

“Orlando is like central-water skiing, it’s like golfing,” she said. “If you’re a pro golfer, you’re going to go to Florida, if you’re a pro water skier, you’re going to Florida. Once you’re there it has all the best coaches in the world, best lakes, and best facilities.”

“Once you get into that envirnoment where there’s people around you that are taking it seriously, you get more competitive and it pushes you. And at that point, I knew I definitely wanted to do this professionally.”

1370283_10151713533661130_1606517052_nAlong with slalom Geena also does trick and jump skiing. Slalom, which is her strength and her personal favourite, involves skiing through a course that consists of six buoys, with an entry gate and an exit gate. For slalom, the maximum speed for women is 34 miles/hr or 55 km/hr. Once you complete the course at maximum speed, you keep shortening the rope length, making it more challenging to turn sharp and cut across the wake in time to get around next buoy. Trick skiing is based off a point system that involves two 20 seconds passes to do as many tricks as you can. Jump skiing is based off the distance of the jump.
1388102_10151713533696130_196526222_nWater skiing has given Geena the opportunity to do what everyone dreams of: Travelling the world to do what you love most. In March she skied at a pro tournament in Melbourne, Australia, and at another one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in June. She recently received a bronze medal and the Europe and Africa Championships in Greece, and is heading to her first Open World tournament in Chile at the end of November.

Geena (far right) on the podium at the Europe and Africa Championships in Greece.

Geena (far right) on the podium at the Europe and Africa Championships in Greece.

Geena skiing on Star Lake - Summer 2013.

Geena skiing on Star Lake – Summer 2013.

All this world travelling doesn’t stop Geena from coming back to visit and ski at the place where it all started: in the Whiteshell Provincial Park. She says she will continue to return to the Whiteshell and Lake of the Woods every summer.

“I have so many memories here,” said Geena. “I don’t think anyone understands being out at the lake until you’ve actually been here. I’ve been to so many places in the world and I always come here and it’s just so peaceful; I love it here.”

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Fall Colours: Part I

Fall. It’s one of the most beautiful times of year in the Whiteshell. With warm temperatures and gorgeous changing colours, you couldn’t ask for a nicer fall than the one we’ve been having. Experience the Whiteshell is sharing the stunning fall time scenery in our Fall Colours photo series.

Photos by Emily Christie & Michael Jordan.

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The Legends of the Fall

There is no fish, and no time of year…that has generated more fishing stories than fall musky fishing.  For the big fish-angler, no question, the October/November time frame is the annual crusade to catch a ‘Legend of the Fall: the elusive musky!  At Shield Outfitters, we spend most of our time guiding the Whiteshell as a rule… but there are exceptions. Since there are no muskies in the Whiteshell, one must trailer down the street to Lake of the Woods for some of the best musky fishing in the world. There, we spend a day or two every year with clients who are looking for the fishing experience of a lifetime… and we are happy to oblige.

ChunkyMuskyKyle2012crop copyMuskies require some specialized gear and knowledge, but even a beginner can make it happen with a little guidance.  Armed with an array of trolling baits, and the following game plan, we regularly put our clients on the fish they are looking for.

Fishing for one of the ‘Legends of the Fall’ can be exhilarating, but one has to be prepared to put in time paying their dues. People look at you strangely as you tell them of trolling during blowing snow, or breaking ice to launch your rig. One must experience it to capture its many rewards, and there are many. Actually landing a musky is just one of them. Those who focus just on the catching, quickly lose interest, as the long ‘flat lining’ between strikes can lead to discouragement. When the focus is on the hunt, the joy of the sport reveals itself.

IcePole copyRobert Service in his poem, Spell of the Yukon, articulated this beautifully when he wrote: “Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting so much as just finding the gold.” This is something curiously more understandable when we are very young. Musky hunting is not fishing; it is angling’s great adventure.

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For those who are not big fish veterans, let me first frame the fall season for you. The shorter days and colder nights of September drop water temps, and sunlight hours wane. This triggers a seasonal reaction in the entire food chain. Ciscoes and whitefish that were in the deeper waters of the lake now begin to move shallower, coming onto contact with shoreline lips and reefs.

Summer musky hunters, casting buck tails and jerk baits at open water reefs, hope to trigger muskies that are resting in the shallow warmer water. This elevated water temperature increases their metabolism, allowing them to digest more efficiently… then it’s back down to the smorg. Now that fall is here, their deep water forage (ciscoes) move up and reefs become ambush points, not just a place to relax after a meal. Now, instead of dropping buck tails up in tight near the visible reef, bumping a deep diving bait 10 – 20 ft. down, across the tongue of a reef is the ticket.

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Dave snow-trolling.

Environments like Lake of the Woods present some very visible starting points for those still looking for their first fish – islands and reefs. Islands often have shoreline lips that extend out into the deep water. These shallower lips may hold spawning ciscoes as the fall progresses. Reefs also invite roaming schools of walleye/ciscoes, so troll from island to reef, from reef to island, etc, etc, etc.  While trolling at this time of year we are sure to making contact with the bottom from time to time, as bouncing off rocks triggers strikes. And as we move along the island/reef lip, we are sure to cross the point into open water. Do NOT reel in and blast to the next spot, troll there if it is not too far. You may draw a player off the point/reef and he may need some thought time before he commits (female anglers will relate to this :))

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMuskies will often suspend over deeper water underneath baitfish schools, so the deep water off reefs and island points cannot be ignored. Those who just concentrate on the reefs and islands alone miss out on some truly big fish water. NB: The thing that “gold plates” a reef, an island, or a stretch of open water, is the presence of baitfish, the more baitfish, the more potential. I often refer to the old National Geographic specials with the impressive herds of gazelles grazing on the African Plain. Nearby there will always be a pride of lions in the tall grass. Hmmm.

The game plan pure and simple: Go to musky waters (Eagle Lake, Lake of the Woods, Winnipeg River, to name just a few), and troll the crank bait of your choice 3-5 mph through a predetermined route of islands and reefs.  As fall progresses and water temperature drops, your trolling speed should drop with it. Be sure to note on your sonar the areas and depths you are encountering the greatest concentration of baitfish. These spots will become your “milk run” on day 2.Lee Smith muskie (2) my space copySome of our favourite trolling baits are the 10” Believer, Mirro-lure, Jumbo Rapalas, Jakes, Grannies, and even Reef Runners. We provide them all, as well as rods and reels. If you are looking to buy, then your local tackle retailer will set you up with the right reel, pole, the lures mentioned, and more (Figure 8 Baits in Kenora is a musky specialty shop and is excellent – just ask for Ryan). The important thing is to have baits that will troll at varying depths to put you in the zone. The baitfish tell you where the zone is, so pay attention. Oh yes, most important of all, buy, borrow, or make, a musky cradle. Nets are very hard on the fish (split tails), and if you hold a fish up by the gill plate, make sure it is just a quick photo then release it. Holding a fish vertical for an extended time could cause internal damage. We usually take two or three quick shots including the release. Cradling the fish in your arms is an option but leave your suede jacket at home. 🙂Tannis muskie crop copyHere are some closing thoughts for those who have caught muskies and now hunt for the fish of fishes…muskies over 52”. Consistently catching these bruisers often means a different approach. Some time ago I guided a friend to a personal best 54 incher that was featured in a local fishing mag. This fish was caught on a 10” Believer trolled along a island rock wall over 55 ft. of water. In the fall, this is a favourite haunt of big fish. They will tuck in along the wall, or suspend under schools of baitfish moving along these underwater palisades.

The more structural elements you have in association with these walls the better. This particular location is situated at a necked down area connecting two major bodies of water with an island and an open water reef close by, but it’s still not worth a look until the baitfish show up, and then…I can’t stop working a spot like this. All it takes is for one “Legend of the Fall” to show itself and you would fish a year straight without a bite to see her again. That’s fall musky fishin’, angling’s great adventure, and I love it.

– Dave Abbott, Shield Outfitters guide.

History and Folklore of the Whiteshell Park South: Republished.

Everyone has a story from the lake. Whether it’s a story about your favourite weekend at the lake, the biggest fish you caught, or the day you finished building the family cabin, the stories and events that happen at the lake tend to stick with people throughout the years. Every cottager or local has a story about how or why they came to the lake. And in the Southeast Whiteshell, some of those stories date back to the 1930s or 1940s.

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The republished History and Folklore of the Whiteshell Park South.

Luckily, many of those stories can be found in History and Folklore of the Whiteshell Park South, which has recently been republished. While the book was first published in 1991, author and former Whiteshell-local Olive Zimmerman has been documenting life in the Whiteshell ever since the ice froze over on West Hawk Lake in 1951. Olive then began to record ice-in and ice-off every year and began to save articles from the Whiteshell Echo, a publication that she wrote for at the time.

Olive’s husband, Adolph Zimmerman, came to the Whiteshell before World War II and throughout the years worked as a carpenter, a diamond driller at the Star Lake gold mine, and for Manitoba Conservation. Olive, who had originally hailed from Desford, MB and now lives on Vancouver Island, came to the Whiteshell in 1950.

“I had just come out of home ec. school in Brandon, broke,” said Olive. “And I decided that before I did anything else, I was going to spend a summer at a resort.”

Olive got a job as a waitress at the Trans-Canada Restaurant, which is now the West Hawk Inn Bar & Grill, and packed her bags and moved to West Hawk Lake for the summer. However, that summer turned into a permanent life for Olive for nearly 50 years. Olive and Adolph were married in 1951 and it wasn’t long after that Olive started to make notes and record things that happened in the community, even though she didn’t really know what she was going to use the material for.

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Olive and Adolph Zimmerman.

“I realized that there was a lot of stuff that people didn’t have access to,” said Olive. “And I was bit-by-bit writing down these things before I ever decided that we need a book, because there’s no library in the area to save all this.”

Between 1958 and 1962, while they still owned and operated Lakeside Cabins on West Hawk Lake, Olive really began to record bits and pieces of local events that would make history. She continued to do so after they sold that business and moved to the junction of Highway 301 and the Toniata Road.

At this time Adolph had started on permanent staff with the Department of Highways while the scale was still located in the West Hawk townsite, before the Highway 1 location opened. He moved on to the new location by the Ontario border, while continuing to help cottagers with their cottage and dock repairs and working on his trap line during the winter months. Olive helped with their propane business on Highway 301. That along with raising two children, pursuing her interests in crafts, and helping in the community still did not keep Olive busy enough. She continued her hobby as the local historian.

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Olive Zimmerman.

“I had started gathering stuff, but I didn’t know what I was going to do with it at the time. In the end, I was off and on (writing) for ten years. I spent a lot of time seriously thinking if I could get enough material for a book.”

Being locals, Olive and Adolph knew a lot of people in the area and Olive began to encourage others to write stories about their family cottages or homes. That’s how she got the story of an archaeology dig on Caddy Lake, or the one of the old time residents who took a cast iron stove apart to make several trips across Falcon Lake, and then reassembled it when they got to their cottage, along with many other interesting stories found in her book.

Finally after years and years of collecting information, Olive decided to publish it as a history book. History and Folklore of the Whiteshell Park South was first published in 1991, and has now been republished, thanks to Paul and Marg Duncan. The republished version includes all of the original material, and now includes an index and some added information about the recent upgrades to the school, the medical centre, and to the West Hawk Lake townsite.

“I really like what they have done to my book, and I love the cover,” said Olive.

Olive added that it is now up to the next generation to publish the next bit of history in the Whiteshell.

“Keep saving all the write ups,” said Olive. “I have a big envelope of writing. People who are interested in this should keep write ups that make history and keep writing for the next book. You couldn’t put another addition on my book. It would have to be a completely new book instead of reproducing the first one.”

“To each and every story there is some history – That’s what makes a book,” said Olive. “Thank you everyone who contributed.”

We say, “Thank YOU, Olive, for keeping this treasure trove of stories and giving it to us!”

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Olive Zimmerman.

The republished edition of History and Folklore of the Whiteshell Park South is available for purchase in local businesses in the Southeast Whiteshell.

 

Wildlife of the Month: Black Bears (Part I)

You don’t see them everyday, but black bears are often sighted in the Whiteshell rummaging around for berries, scaling up trees, and, on occasion, swimming over to an island. These large animals are an important part of the ecosystem in the Whiteshell or, as wildlife photographer Anne Klassen likes to refer to them as, the ‘farmers of the forest’. They also happen to be Klassen’s favourite animal to photograph. Black bears will spend most of their waking hours in search of food before their hibernation time, which is usually in mid-October. Since these animals will soon be going into hibernation for the next six months (approximately), Experience the Whiteshell is featuring black bears as the October Wildlife of the Month. Take a last glimpse at these beautiful and powerful animals in a series of photographs captured by Anne Klassen, before they hit the snooze button for the winter.
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Please remember to always be bear smart in the Whiteshell: Never leave garbage around and never approach or feed the bears.