Competitive cross-country skiers in the Yukon are getting ready for a season packed with racing events across the territory and beyond.
Cross Country Yukon head coach and sport coordinator Graham Nishikawa said there are a lot of different races on the calendar with athletes set to compete according to where they are in their development pipeline.
“I’m hoping to get the athletes into the right races, so they can try to achieve their best,” he said.
Nishikawa was hired back in the spring as the new coach of the team. He said it still feels like he is learning how all the athletes respond to different training variables.
“I’m really happy with the progress they’ve made, especially in our technical ability. We are looking forward to a really action-packed race season.”
The first season event for the team is the trials for the 2024 Arctic Winter Games (AWG) which will take place on Dec. 16 and 17, with Jan. 6 and 7, 2024 set as backup dates. The games will be held from March 10 to March 16, 2024, in Mat-Su, Alaska, with 20 sports to feature Yukon athletes.
Next year, the Don Sumanik Memorial Races will take place on Jan. 20 and 21, with Jan. 27 and 28 set as backup dates.
The Yukon Cross-Country Ski Championship will take place on Feb. 10 with Feb. 17 as a backup date. The Mount Lorne Loppet event has been tentatively scheduled for Feb. 25.
The Yukon Ski Marathon will take place on March 2.
For the AWG trials, Nishikawa said skiers will be selected for the team to represent the territory in the U14, U16 and U18 categories.
“It’s a great event and, particularly in skiing, there’s really strong competition in the games. So, it’s a great trip to go on for aspiring athletes to just get really high-level racing,” he said.
Nishikawa told the News that he will be taking the travel team out to different races nationally to compete.
The first of the national races is the Western Canada Cup at SilverStar in Vernon, British Columbia on Dec. 2 and 3. The World Junior event in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec takes place in January while the National Ski Championships are in Ottawa in March 2024.
Nishikawa said all the best racers in the country will come to participate at SilverStar.
“It’s a great opportunity for athletes to race some of the best in Canada. It’s the first race of the year and will be a great way to kick off the season,” he said.
He said Cross Country Yukon is supporting and keeping tabs on athletes from the territory who have finished high school and are pursuing their skiing elsewhere.
Nishikawa said at the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club snow machines have been used to create a snow loop where athletes have been skiing for the past week.
“I think that’s just been really key and you can see the progress already,” he said. “We are hoping that it snows soon, but we’re definitely quite ready to race. We feel so lucky to have that training track available to us. So, we’re looking forward to the season.”
On settling into his new role as head coach, Nishikawa said it’s been kind of a whirlwind getting acquainted with the team.
“They’re very good athletes here and it’s been really fun to work with them, and see all their improvements already,” he said.
“I just want to make sure that athletes are getting to the right races, and that they’re optimally prepared, and that I’ve done everything I can to help them, given them the best keys I can, and that there’s a team of coaches behind them to support them so they can go show their best.”
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