Minty Bradford competes in a grass-skiing event in France. (Courtesy/Minty Bradford)

Minty Bradford competes in a grass-skiing event in France. (Courtesy/Minty Bradford)

Column: Teen skier from Whitehorse reflects on journey from Mount McIntyre to the French alps

Minty Bradford

Special to the News

Editor’s Note: This is the first of four columns by Yukon cross-country skier Minty Bradford, reflecting on her experiences training in France this winter.

I am a 14-year-old female cross-country skier from Whitehorse who is living this year in the alps in France.

Growing up in Yukon, I have been able to easily train and ski from November until late April for most of my life.

In Whitehorse, I live less than a 10-minute walk from the Mount McIntyre ski trails and have always been able to easily jump on the ski trails without too much effort. This year I am living in France, and I have come to realise that I have taken for granted having easy access to the outdoors and to winter conditions.

Since September, I have had to learn new ways to train for competitive cross-country skiing because there is very little snow. I have discovered a lot this year about learning to adapt as a ski racer. Without the early season snow that I am used to in Whitehorse, I have introduced some new experiences to keep my training on schedule.

I have been cross-country skiing since I could walk, and I now compete against some of the best junior skiers in Canada with support this season from Northern LYTES Youth Sport Development Fund. I have big long-term goals in ski racing and hope to one day represent Canada on the world stage.

I train all season long from May to March for about six days a week. April is a rest month.

Since the beginning of this season, I have worked to qualify for Team Yukon at the 2023 Canada Games in Prince Edward Island.

When I qualified in early December, I shifted my training focus so that I will be able to race at a peak capacity in March. These games have been a goal of mine for a long time, because I want to race against the best young cross country skiers in Canada.

The only difference in my training plan from my Yukon teammates is that I am living in France.

France may sound nice to many people, and it is really interesting to be in a new place and living in a new culture. However, this year Europe is having a low-snow year. As a winter athlete, I have had to find different ways to train so that I can race at my potential.

I joined a new club team here in France that I train with four times a week. Altogether, I train about eight to 10 hours a week.

Training with others is really important because even though cross-country skiing is an individual sport, being part of a team is more fun and I feel supported each day I train or race.

Meeting new teammates has also made being in France exciting. The club in France is well-known nationally and has several members racing at an international level in both cross-country skiing and biathlon. Being in a club where both sports are mixed together is new for me. However, being in a club that has international level skiers is not new, as there are several skiers from Whitehorse who ski or have skied at an international level and they have really inspired me, as I can look up to many Yukon athletes and see them representing Canada at World Championships and at the Olympics.

Some of the things I did to adapt to the lack of snow were a lot more roller skiing, grass-skiing and even traveling to Slovenia to an indoor ski tunnel.

Roller skiing is something that cross-country skiers do in the summer to train when there is no snow. In Whitehorse, we roller ski all summer long and into the fall, but we need to do this on roads or paths and we have to be careful for pedestrians and cars.

France has many specially designed roller ski venues with many kilometres of roller ski trails that are used by skiers only.

The other different type of training was participate in a grass sprint ski race. For this type of training, I was on an alpine ski hill and I used normal cross-country ski equipment, except that the skis were a very old pair. The race was about 60-metres long, so it was like the 100-metre dash in track running, but uphill. We had heats and a final and raced against six other skiers at a time.

In October, I also skied on a specially designed ski track set up in a parking garage in northern Slovenia in a ski centre called Planiča, which will host the 2023 Cross-Country Ski World Championships next month.

This was a really interesting experience. The parking garage was kept at a temperature of -3 C, and artificial snow was put inside to make a ski track over two stories. It was cool to be able to go to a venue that is used by the best in my sport.

For five days to prepare my body for the movements of skiing, I skied laps of the 600-metre loop, focusing on my balance and power transfer from ski to snow. Skiing in the parking garage benefited me in a significant way because I was able to ski and glide on snow for the first time in months.

Finally, I have travelled to higher altitudes since Christmas so that I could ski on snow and to train at a level that my sport needs. This training was very different from skiing in the tunnel because of the variable terrain, and I was outside, which made the actual skiing much more enjoyable. This training was a higher quality because the ski track was longer, and the colder snow made it better.

The challenges and changes I have gone through this winter in Europe have made me a better skier because I have learned to adapt my training and preparation for my skiing career, and not to rely on only one plan.

By skiing in parking garages, up grass on ski hills and in the high mountains of France, I have created many reasons for why, at this year’s national races, I will be able to race as hard as I can.