Thomas Vollmer loves skiing. He was just two when he first tip-toed on snow, learning every step with the help of his dad, Dean Vollmer. Now 13, Thomas is aspiring to compete at the highest levels and become a professional skier.
On Feb. 6, the Arctic Winters Games in Wood Buffalo, Alta., came to an end with Team Yukon winning a record 169 medals. Team Alaska and Team Alberta placed second and third respectively with 145 and 144 medals.
Thomas was one of the 267 athletes that participated in the games. Alongside his older sister Tori, Thomas represented Team Yukon on the alpine skiing team and won four individual medals — three gold and one silver.
“I’m pretty happy with how I performed at the games,” Thomas said. “We gave our best for each game and we got results.”
Some months before the competition, Thomas joined other athletes in preparing to compete. A trial was set to select the 11-member alpine skiing team. He made the cut.
“I was happy when I was selected,” Thomas told the News.
Between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m each day during the games, the Vollmer siblings woke up to join their teammates and take an hour-and-a-half bus ride to the hill where they would get ready for their runs.
“It was kind of annoying because it was really cold at those times,” he said.
On the third day of the competition when the weather was -39 C, the scheduled alpine race for the day was called off.
The siblings race with Alpine Yukon, which offers “recreational and competitive alpine ski programs for children, youth and adults.”
For Thomas, the medals came with some initial setbacks, he said. On the second day of the competition, Thomas said he was a little bit disappointed because he had lost the gold medal by a few seconds. However, he got silver.
“That happens,” he said. “I just tried to get over it because the past is in the past and you can’t really change it or do anything about it. I had to work harder and get better in subsequent games.”
Like Thomas, Tori had an impressive run at the games, winning four gold medals in the U17 giant and parallel slalom. With their combined efforts, the Yukon alpine skiing athletes won the overall best team award.
Tori said she was happy when she won her first medal.
“Receiving the medal was a really special moment of appreciation for me,” she recalls. “We were incredibly supported by our community and it’s been great to be able to compete at this level.”
In January, Tori had a concussion. She thought she wouldn’t be able to participate at this year’s games. But she recovered quickly in time to make it to the games.
“That was a challenge coming into the games, but thankfully it did not affect my ability to perform,” she said.
Two days into the games, Tori celebrated her 17th birthday in front of her teammates and fans. On the same day, she had a run which she said did not meet her expectations and left her downcast.
“You find that you were a little bit behind because you didn’t have the run you were hoping to have,” she said. “It was a bit challenging mentally, but I was able to overcome that and had a great second run.”
Tori added: “You actually don’t know what other teams are going to be like and what level they are at,” she said. “It’s after the first run when you are able to see the time and looking at the time after my first run, I was really excited with my performance and was willing to push myself for the next run and go even faster and do more. “
Tori, who participated at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games, said it was nice to be on the same team with her brother Thomas during the games.
“We were able to help each other out with our work plans and preparations,” she said. “We watched each other’s back and I think everyone was kind of supportive of each other. We made sure everyone was in the right place during the game.”
Thomas said his sister supported him. “We all give each other advice before the games and discuss the challenges we face during previous games and try to help each other out.”
Dean, who worked with two other coaches Urs Schirmer and Brenda Jenner-Chaperone to lead the alpine skiing athletes, said the team did a lot of training in preparation and worked hard during the games.
“It all worked out in the end,” he said in a phone chat with the News. “We started around November 2022 and trained as a team leading into the games.”
Dean said he is impressed with the performances of his kids.
“I think they will keep working hard and performing well as they’re currently doing.”
Thomas and Tori said it was a “pretty good experience” having their father as one of the three alpine skiing team coaches.
“He was the one who got me into skiing so I owe everything to him,” Thomas said.
Tori said her dad is dedicated to skiing and was a great support who pushed them at the games.
Jane Londero, the Yukon’s mission staff of the alpine and snowboarding teams, said the Arctic Winter Games lived up to expectations.
“I’m very impressed with the performances of the team,” she said. “Everyone was outstanding and gave their best.”
Londero said the games saw new young athletes who missed the opportunity to attend previous games over the last five years.
The 2023 games were the first since 2018. In 2020, the games, which were billed for Whitehorse, were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Sports has been in the doldrum in the last four years,” Londero said. “Most of the athletes that were at the games have not experienced an Arctic Winter Games so they were all very excited to participate.”
Londero described the Vollmer siblings as “extraordinary.”
“They definitely dominated in the alpine games,” she said. “[Thomas] is a fire-cracker and fantastic athlete. He enjoyed the experience and is really excited and enthusiastic about everything.”
Londero said the highlight of the games was the show of team spirit.
“Getting along well, serving hot meals when it was cold and helping those with accessibility issues were my best parts,” she said. “I saw the enthusiasm of other athletes from other sports and how they were being supportive to each other.”
The performances of Thomas and Tori will serve as motivation to other kids, Londero said.
“When other kids who couldn’t participate at the games because they are too young hear of their achievements, they would be motivated to want to represent the territory in future games,” she noted.
The Canada Winter Games start on Feb. 18 in Prince Edward Island. Tori will be representing the Yukon once again. This time around, their father will be attending as a technical assistant and not as a coach.
“It’s a lot bigger and more competitive than the Arctic Winter Games,” Dean said. “The best of the best will be going there. It’s going to be a lot tougher competition.”
Since the winter games ended, Tori has been training out of Canmore in Alberta. She is also attending school through flexible programming via the Aurora Virtual School and Vista, allowing her to ski while she studies.
Tori told the News she wants to ski for a college or university team in the future.
“My goal in skiing is to keep getting better and have more opportunities to compete at the highest level,” she said.
Thomas is ambitious and dreams of competing at the Olympics someday.
“It would be my all-time goal,” he said. “I want to ski like my sister, which is skiing at a completely different level and training six to seven days a week. Just training and growing like a professional.”
Contact Patrick Egwu at email@example.com