Canada Winter Games cross-country ski team hoping experience of four years ago will come through

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One thing the Canada Winter Games cross-country ski team will be short on is experience.

They’ll need it when the sport takes place in Red Deer, Alta., during week two of the Games.

Ella Kokelj, seen racing in the Alberta Cup event in Canmore, Alta., last November, will be part of the girls cross-country ski team heading to the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta., next month. photo courtesy of Mike Argue
Ella Kokelj, seen racing in the Alberta Cup event in Canmore, Alta., last November, will be part of the girls cross-country ski team heading to the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta., next month.
photo courtesy of Mike Argue

Team NT’s squad will have several skiers who have already seen what the Games are all about; close to half the team competed in Prince George, B.C., in 2015.

Sheena Tremblay, who’s coaching the team along with Mike Argue, said that experience will come in handy as the younger skiers prepare for the experience.

“The older skiers, we hope, will mentor the younger skiers and will bring some good insight as to what they’ll expect,” she said. “It’s a real tight-knit group and a great bunch of athletes. It makes it easier to coach them.”

Nicolas Bennett is one of those who skied four years ago in B.C. as a 14-year-old.

Now, he’s four years older and four years wiser and speaking with Yellowknifer earlier this month, he said this experience should be a good one.

“Donny (Boake), Jack (Panayi) and I were all so young back then,” he said. “That exposure gave me a lot of confidence and this time, I’m looking for a solid top-10 finish, if not better.”

Those skiers who are in town were hard at it at the Yellowknife Ski Club this past weekend, even with temperatures dipping below -20 C.

Some people may think that’s too cold as Cross Country Canada regulations state no racing can happen when the air temperature drops below the -20 C mark, but Tremblay said practice is different.

“We don’t cancel any practices because of the cold,” she said. “The temperature limit is for competition but we’ve been going year-round getting ready and if it’s too cold, we just go inside and work on the track (at the Fieldhouse).”

If they train outdoors in colder temperatures, Tremblay said the workouts aren’t high-intensity.

Unlike the Arctic Winter Games, there are no age categories to divide the skiers – everyone skis against everyone, regardless of age and experience, creating the possibility of a younger skier going up against an older skier in a race. For the Canada Winter Games, it’s all U21 with one skier of each gender on the team allowed to be up to 23 years of age.

“That could be the hardest part of it for us,” said Tremblay. “We don’t have anyone that old but competing against an older skier is a possibility.”

There will be no pre-Games camp before the team leaves for Red Deer as there are skiers in the south, such as Bennett, who trains in Calgary, along with Donny Boake, who trains in Canmore, Alta., and Clair Littlefair, who’s with Team Telemark in B.C.

Tremblay said the southern skiers will meet up with the team in Red Deer and do a bit of work prior to the races beginning.

Speaking of the races, they will begin on Feb. 25 with the interval events, 7.5-km for the girls and 10-km for the boys. The next day is the sprint races and after a rest day, it’s the classic mass start races on Feb. 28 with the girls racing over 10-km and the boys doing 15-km. The final day of action will be March 2 with the mixed relays.

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