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Nobody Does Winter Like Phil Meagher

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“It’s all about the glide.”

One word - “glide” - sums up Phil Meagher’s love for winter. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who loves winter as much as he does – at least in Fort McMurray.

Well-known for wearing many hats in our community, Meagher has been a municipal councillor for seven terms now – that’s 21 years. He is the full-time Chief Deputy Superintendent for the Fort McMurray Public School District, and began his career with the District as a teacher 33 years ago moving up the ranks as a Vice Principal, and then Principal.

Originally from New Brunswick, Meagher, 54, grew up in a family of 10. He met Sherri, his wife of 31 years in Fort McMurray, and the couple has five children.

And, while Meagher can be seen helping many social profit organizations in town, there are a few near and dear to his heart. He is a former Board member of the United Way of Fort McMurray – served two terms, and shares, he “learned a lot about the community during those six years.” He is part of the Ptarmigan Nordic Ski Club, our region’s official cross-country ski club, and serves on the Centre of Hope’s fundraising committee. He’s also a regular snow angel, shovelling snow for seniors, and neighbours in Thickwood.

Hockey and the local Referee Association have been a big part of Meagher’s life. He was the treasurer of the association. And, is now with the McMurray Gentlemen’s League, a hockey league for adults. Since the 80s, he has been involved in some capacity with all the high-profile Games the region has hosted. This summer he chaired the Track and Field events for the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games, was part of the host committee, and on the bid committee for upcoming Games as well.

“I always have a meeting to go to. People ask me if I sleep. Yes, I do,” he shares with a laugh.

But, nothing excites him more than winter, and snow. And, if you follow him on Twitter, he’s @orangelid – you’ve seen the summer tweets yearning for winter, and the fall tweets waiting for winter, and when the joyful season arrives, Meagher is on cloud nine, which for him happen to be the Birchwood Trails.

“The snow looks like clouds, especially at night. The world feels far away. It’s about the glide, being able to manipulate the snow, and having the right wax on. Going uphill is my heater – your heart races, and your whole body heats up. You stay nice and warm unlike downhill. I love downhill skiing, but there’s no work there. I can cross country ski for four hours without taking a break.”

It’s push-off, weight transfer to the other ski, and glide. That’s how it’s done, he advices.

“I glide through winter. April shows up so fast. And, I say where did my winter go? I’ll admit it – in -32C you don’t get a lot of glide. Perfect temperature happens to be -10 to -15C. And, -38C below, you have to watch out for frostbite. The coldest temperature I’ve skied in was -47C – mean temperature, not wind chill. You just have to be prepared.”

Yes, he was training for a race, and he needed every opportunity.

“The snow felt like sand. But, I was out there. It’s having the right wax combination, which helps. Most people don’t realize Birchwood Trails can have a difference of temperature. It could be -20C on the top, and -30C downhill in the valley. Cold air settles in the bottom.”

As for the waxes he refers to a lot, those he say, vary according to temperature to get the right, you guessed it, glide.

“Darker waxes are used for warmer temperatures. They have temperatures listed on them. A good skier can feel the ski dragging, and know you are not in the wax zone. I’ve spent 3 a.m. to 7 a.m., during competitions, just waxing and testing skis. We’re doing 20 sets of skis multiplied by two because we have skates also. Wax is make or break for skiers. Not having the right wax can be hell on earth. But, it does come down to performance. You really have to know what you’re doing. Wax gives you better glide,” he emphasizes.

He has taken his love for cross-country skiing on a competitive level, and ranked third in the Alberta Cup Masters Series in the 2012-2013 ski season.

This fascination with conquering what he calls “challenges that make-up a hostile environment,” means Meagher is trained to tackle the environment. He has taken several outdoor/wilderness courses and taught them too.

“It’s not that you get cold, it’s that you lose heat. If you stick your hand in -40C, it’s not the cold attacking your hand, it’s you losing heat. In other words, if you are properly protected, you can handle it, people don’t understand that,” explains Meagher.

“Having the right layers on prevents your body from losing heat, and you retain heat. This is why mittens are better than gloves, because your fingers are together, keeping warm.”

“I go to places and camp out at night that could kill people. Last January, we camped out for Centre of Hope’s Sub-Zero challenge in -34C on Gregoire Lake. There were about nine of us, and I showed people how to make an emergency shelter. We built a quinzee (simple shelter by hollowing out a big pile of snow), and we were quite comfortable at night with the fire going,” continued Meagher.

The group raised $13,000 for the Centre of Hope – no small feat in the dead of winter.

Most recently, Meagher can be seen on the Birchwood Trails coaching Fort McMurray Christian School students for their ski academy. He was also selected as one of the ski coaches for the 2016 Arctic Winter Games to be held in Nuuk, Greenland in March.

In the end, he believes winter is nature’s gorgeous reflection.

“I see northern lights, snowy owls, wolves (apparently they stay away from humans). I wish people wouldn’t be afraid of winter. It’s beautiful.”


Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.