Monthly Archives: March 2016

Canadian Ski Nationals in Whitehorse

While most people escaped winter and travelled to warm places over March break, I went to find more snow and high level cross country ski racing! This year’s Canadian Cross Country Ski championships where held in Whitehorse, Yukon (aptly called Canada’s wilderness city).

A break along the trail with my XC Ottawa teammate Kyla.
A break along the race trail with my XC Ottawa teammate Kyla.
The Whitehorse Ski Community

The Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club is impressive, and a good example of how sport and recreation can have a positive impact on a community. The central and convenient location certainly has something to do with it – it’s easy for many to take a bus or walk to the ski club. And although difficult to isolate when traveling as an athlete, the cross-country ski culture is strong in Whitehorse!

Maybe that’s because cross country skiers represent a decent chunk of the Whitehorse community (about 1/20 residents are members of the club).  At about 1,300 members, the Whitehorse club membership is one of the largest in the country (a similar size as the Ottawa/Gatineau Nakkertok Nordic ski club).   A disproportionate number of our nation’s top skiers come from the small city of Whitehorse, so this club is doing many things right!

The race courses were pretty spectacular, with impeccable grooming and in great shape thanks to many Whitehorse volunteer hours of shoveling snow (Whitehorse typically doesn’t get that much snow, but it does stick around because of the cold .  .  this was a low-snow year, which added to the challenge).  With over 470 skiers, the event was the largest ever hosted by the Whitehorse club.

You could really see the entire Whitehorse community getting behind the effort, from dishing out a variety of delicious soups from local restaurants (let me digress here because I love soups . . . there were 2 or 3 to choose from and the choice was hard they all looked so good!) to controlling traffic on the race course. On some race days school buses dropped off children to watch the races and be part of the event.

Sheila Sdclassic1 (640x448)

Canada’s fastest skiers competed

A bonus at this year’s event was that a number of our National team and Olympians competed, including Alex Harvey, Ivan Babikov, Lenny Valjas, Graeme Killick and Whitehorse’s own Emily Nishikawa.  In the last few years our best athletes haven’t raced at ski nationals, which isn’t a good thing.  Having these athletes compete at the National Championships has a huge impact on the event and can have far-reaching effects for the athletes they are racing against and the younger athletes who see them competing.

Alex (640x445)
Alex Harvey tucks downhill in sprint qualifier

Beyond brushing shoulders with the nation’s best, they see them putting on race bibs just like they do, rushing to bathroom before the start, joking with teammates, tucking down the same hills and negotiating the same tricky corners . . .it can help athletes think “I can do that too!”

Lenny Valjas and Alex Harvey after sprint qualifier
Lenny Valjas and Alex Harvey after sprint qualifier

Alex And Joel (640x480)

Alex Harvey treated spectators to a new phenomenon in classic style racing by going without kick wax and double poling the challenging 10 km course (and winning). Alex and Ivan did the race announcing for the sprint event for the younger athletes – their insight was appreciated by many!

Alex And Ivan (640x428)

My racing

I raced in the open women’s category, and our events often started mid-day – which made for a relaxing morning. But this race start meant the snow moisture content was changing and the track transitioning from hard to soft – which added to the challenge of selecting skis and wax for the changing snow – which was also different on varying parts of the course (shade/high sun).  My club Nakkertok did an almost impossible job with continuous wax testing throughout the day to have the best skis for over 45 athletes racing at different times.

My week of racing included a team sprint, 5k individual start classic, 10k individual start skate, and 1.2 km sprint, and 30k mass start classic.  Overall it was a pretty good week,  highlighted by a 12th place in the final 30k classic event. This particular race was pretty grueling, as we raced over the lunch hour and the snow speed seemed to mimick the body’s energy stores over the 2-hour race –  from snappy and fast for the 1st lap of the 4-lap course to slugglish molasses in the final lap!

Sheila Corner 3Negotiating a corner into the stadium during the skate race (thanks Peter Wiltman for the pic!)

I am forever impressed with the community efforts involved to make these events happen. The small community of Whitehorse certainly impressed, and every club had teams of coaches and parents working on all kinds of details from early morning until late night to make the experience a good one for all.  And many are taking precious vacation time to do this! Yes it’s a stark contrast to the typical March Break beach holidays of many of their co-workers, but hopefully in some ways just as rewarding.





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Rich Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate FrameHot chocolate can be a healthful drink if you make it right. As I reviewed here, cocoa is rich in flavanols, compounds that can make blood vessels more flexible and able to expand. This circulatory system influence seems to have far-reaching health benefits: over the last decade an impressive body of research has linked cocoa consumption with cardiovascular benefits, and more limited research shows benefits for skin health (reduce signs of photo-aging and improve elasticity), blood lipids, and Type 2 diabetes, and cognitive function – yes, it seems chocolate can even help the aging brain!  Athletes might be interested in emerging research looking at cocoa flavanols and athletic performance and recovery.

But most prepared hot chocolate mixes and chocolate syrups and powders tend to be overly sweet and the little cocoa/chocolate that they do contain is processed with alkali, which reduces the flavanol content.

What's In Your Hot Chocolate

MAKING YOUR OWN hot chocolate mix is worth the effort (which is fairly minimal). You’ll be rewarded with a soothing chocolatey beverage that is actually good for you. The recipe below makes a delicious hot chocolate, thanks to cocoa and real dark chocolate that combine to produce a decadent and rich drink.

Is hot chocolate really that healthy?

Of course, you still need to consider the extra sugar and calories you’re adding to your diet, because if you don’t need these, their harm could outweigh any potential benefit of cocoa flavanols. For athletes, if you drink hot chocolate after a workout when your body can use the sugars, it’s a near perfect recovery drink. The carbohydrates and sugars will help replenish glycogen stores and the protein in milk helps repair muscle damage. A bonus with this cocoa-rich recipe, is new (albeit limited!) evidence suggesting that cocoa flavanols can help enhance recovery and possibly athletic performance.

How to Make Your Own Hot Chocolate Mix

Hot Chocolate MixYou can make a healthy cup of cocoa by combining 2 tbsp. of cocoa, 1-2 tbsp. sugar and  2 tbsp. milk; heating over low heat and adding 1 cup of milk.  But I find having a mix on hand makes the process easier, and using a food processor to blend the ingredients allows them to dissolve better.

Here is a recipe for a basic cocoa-rich hot chocolate mix; you can make it more healthful by reducing the sugar a bit, and more decadent by increasing the amount of dark chocolate.


Hot Chocolate Mix

  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder*
  • 1/2 cup chopped dark or semiweet chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

To Make the Hot Chocolate

  • Milk of choice (ratio of milk to chocolate powder is about 1 cup milk for each 3 Tbsp. hot chocolate mix)

*see Choosing the Best Cocoa Powder below


  1. HOT CHOCOLATE MIX. Combine cocoa, chocolate, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a food processor. Process until blended to a fine powder (about 1 minute).  Transfer to an airtight jar, where you can store the mix for about 2 months.  This makes about 2 cups of mix (about 10 servings of hot chocolate).
  2. MAKE THE HOT CHOCOLATE (for each cup milk, add 3 Tbsp. of hot chocolate mix).
    In a medium pan, heat milk (until it starts to steam) and stir in the hot chocolate mix. Stir or whisk well until the hot chocolate mixture is dissolved (about 2 minutes). Whisking vigorously produces a nice foam on top of the drink.

This makes about 2 cups of mix (around 10 servings of hot chocolate).  This hot chocolate may separate a little quicker than commercially prepared mixes, so if you’re putting it in a thermos or travel mug, give it a good shake before consuming.

Nutrition Per Serving

3 Tbsp. Mix combined with 1 cup of 1% milk

  • 235 calories
  • 10 g protein
  • 40 g carbohydrate
  • 7 g fat
  • 4 g fiber
  • 170 mg sodium
  • 495 mg potassium

Make Your Own Hot Chocolate Vertical

Which Chocolate Source Contains the Most Flavanols?

The fresh cocoa bean is the richest source of flavanols, and products with a high cocoa content, like cocoa powder, are typically rich in flavonols. A study of commercially-available chocolate and cocoa-containing products ranked flavanol content as follows (in decreasing order): natural cocoa powder, unsweetened baking chocolate, dark chocolate, semisweet baking chips, milk chocolate, and chocolate syrup.

Flavanol Content Of Chocolate Products2

Choosing the Best Cocoa Powder

Cocoa powders vary quite a bit in terms of flavanol content.  Some are processed with alkali (i.e., Dutch-processed, also called “European style” or “alkalized”), which darkens the powder and produces a somewhat milder cocoa.  This processing also reduces flavanol levels (but to varying degrees, since the amount of processing varies among “dutched” products).

Dutch And Natural Cocoa“Natural” cocoa powders are a better bet in terms of health, but you may find these more bitter, and they can be difficult to find. Product names don’t tell all, as not all alkali-processed products are called “dutched processed.”  Checking the ingredient list can help, but not all manufacturers list the alkaline agent to process the cocoa (e.g., potassium carbonate or sodium carbonate). My limited investigation found that Fry’s cocoa and No Name brand cocoa are Dutch processed, while Hershey’s Natural is not.  Color can also be a guide (though somewhat counterintuitive) – a rich dark-colored powder is likely processed.

Although you can use dutch processed or regular cocoa interchangeably in your hot chocolate mix, cocoa processing will influence baked goods (you can read more about cocoa processing and baking here and here).

Recipes with Cocoa and/or Dark Chocolate

double chocolate energy bites bowl with text





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