I was lucky enough to spend a week with family and friends at Silver Star Mountain Resort in south-central BC. This is truly a paradise for cross country skiers, with one of the largest groomed trail network in the country.
Part of the magic of Silver Star, beyond the Dr Seuss Whoville-like trees, is that you can ski from your door: just step out and put your skis on. Groomed “skiways” lead to trails that can take you up and over the mountain! This was our sixth year staying with friends at the Silberne Spitzen house, a perfect place for cross country skiers that seems to have a new addition every year (this year it’s a a sauna . . .unfortunately it wasn’t operational yet!).
Here is the view from the Silberne Spitzen window
Checking out a new trail at the top of the mountain. . .
Sovereign Lake Nordic Center
Over the mountain (an amazing ski or 5-minute drive) is the adjoining Sovereign Lake Nordic Center — which boasts another superb network of trails with race courses that have hosted many NorAm races and several World Cup events.
Our last few days in Silver Star I raced the NorAm/USSA SuperTour events at Sovereign Lake: a classic sprint on Saturday, and 10km skate race on Sunday. Typically the Sovereign Lake event and NorAm circuit attracts the best Canadian skiers not competing on the World Cup. Combining the event with a USSA Supertour raised the level of competition tremendously, with Americans dominating the top 10 in both races. With the altitude and hard course these early season races are typically a challenge, but still fun to do! (results here).
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).
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.
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.
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!”
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!
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!
Negotiating 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.
I love the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont. After racing there at the Nensa Cup race in December, I saw another opportunity to return and stay at the facility, eat the terrific food, and ski on their great trails – the Craftsbury Marathon at the end of January. The enthusiasm was high and they had room, so I reserved for my husband and son as well, and my XC Ottawa teammate Megan decided to come back “en famille” too, with husband Karl, her 2-year old daughter, and Karl’s parents.
With little snow in December we were racing on a 1 km loop, and even that was enjoyable because the tracks were expertly groomed and the event was so well planned. I raced here in December 2013, but only on the sprint course because of an ice storm that cancelled the distance event.
If I liked this venue with 1 km to ski on, just imagine the possibilities of a marathon!
For the marathon, we were also skiing loops, but a nice 12.5 -km loop that offered a lot of variety in terrain. I chose to ski the 25 km event, while Megan and Karl skied the 50 km. Snow hasn’t been plentiful in Vermont this year, but snowmaking at Craftsbury once again helped organizers to produce a track with good coverage.
A Women’s Only Start! A big plus at this event is that the women racers had a dedicated start – which often isn’t the case at ski marathons, which typically have women starting with the men. One disadvantage of starting with the men is that you can quickly lose sight and contact of your competition in the mass start melee.
We started 10 minutes after the men, and after about 4 km we were down to a pack of 3 that included my XC Ottawa teammate Megan and Isabel Caldwell (younger sister of U.S. Ski Team member Sophie Caldwell, and a former Dartmouth and Stratton Mountain School athlete). A funny thing was that there was no way to distinguish 25 km and 50 km competitors. While I knew Megan was skiing 50 km, I didn’t know what Isabel was doing. It was quite enjoyable skiing with them, and every turn was a new adventure because I didn’t know this 12.5 km loop at all. Into lap 2 I decided to pick up the pace – when Isabel stayed back with Megan I gathered she was doing the 50 km as well.
All in all it was a great weekend of relaxing and fun racing. Megan raced really well and pulled away from Isabel on her final lap to win the 50 km, and Karl was second in the 50 km (Karl has a nice write-up of the weekend here). You’ll find a link to the results here.
Sunday was an opportunity explore more of the Craftsbury trails, and we were lucky enough to be led by Keith Woodward, part of their great grooming team.
I’m back from a weekend of racing the Haywood NorAm event in Thunder Bay. Races were held at the amazing Lappe Nordic ski club, which also hosted the Canadian Cross Country Ski Championships last March. There is a lot to love about this ski center . . . incredible trails, superb organization, saunas in the change room, and delicious food including Finnish pancakes!
NorAm races typically draw a very competitive field, and the results of these races will help decide Canada’s teams for the World Junior/u23 championships in Rasnov, Romania. Athletes got ready for a skate sprint, individual start classic, and skiathlon.
Thunder Bay tends to be cold in January, and this year was no exception. For the health of the athletes, races can’t run if it’s colder than -20 deg C. With a careful eye on weather forecasts, organizers changed race days and start times to maximize the probability of racing.
Races were held in conjunction with an Ontario Cup event (also three races), which added to the challenge. Ontario Cup athletes were lucky and raced their events Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Unfortunately Sunday’s cold forced the cancellation of the skiathlon for NorAm athletes, no doubt crushing the hopes of skiers who viewed this distance race as their chance to make the championship team.
Personally it was a good event, and I finished 12th in the sprint and in the classic 10k race. I managed to get into the skate sprint semi-finals as a “lucky loser” based on the time in my quarterfinal. I felt stronger in each heat (the distance racer in me!) and was excited started the “Grunt” climb in the B final, but got caught up with another skier, fell down, and lost the group.
My XC Ottawa teammates had good races, and local clubs Nakkertok, Skinouk, and Chelsea Nordic had some stellar performances.
Although I was disappointed not to race the skiathlon, it created opportunities that led to a great day. While waiting around to race, the women’s field had some spirited discussions about keeping women in skiing, noting the lack of women participating at this event.
In contrast, a similar caliber event in the US (like the races we attended in Craftsbury or Middlebury) have fields of almost 200 women, including many collegiate racers of varying abilities (possibly some clue to the US Women’s team growing success on the world cup circuit?). The women’s field at Lappe was mostly Training Center athletes and a few clubs (only 35 Junior women and 23 Senior women were registered to compete in the skiathlon, with fewer entered in the other events).
After the cancellation we got out for a ski – it was fun to be on the race course in non-racing mode – you see a lot more! These trails are perfectly groomed, have great flow, and have entertaining names that make you smile as you ski past (e.g., Toilet bowl, Humpty Dumpty, Leena’s Leap, and the long climb at the end of most courses is called “the Grunt”).
Here are a few pictures from the day. It’s always so beautiful when it’s cold . . .