Team Yukon is not wasting any time fine-tuning its home-turf advantage for the Haywood Ski Nationals in March.
Skiing on the same 2.5-kilometre course to be used for some events at the nationals, about 40 participants attended the season-opening Don Sumanik Memorial Free Technique Race on Saturday at the Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club.
“We’ve got some real strong skiers out there and I think we’re going to see some good results from Yukon skiers across the country this year,” said Claude Chabot, technical delegate for the race. “The more race experience, the better.”
Whitehorse’s Janelle Greer, a Canada Junior Cross Country Team skier who was chosen to be a cross-country forerunner at the Olympics in February, found the course hilly, but ideal for spectators.
“There’s not much flat to it; it’s pretty much all uphill or downhill, so it’s difficult to push hard on,” said Greer, who had the fastest time of all female competitors, completing two laps in 14 minutes and 7.2 seconds.
“But it’s fun because there’s lots of places spectators can watch and cheer.
“It goes past the chalet, so even if it’s cold, people can watch from inside.”
For the female divisions combined, coming in just behind Greer was Dahria Beatty (14:31), who was just named National/Territorial Female Athlete of the Year by Sport Yukon on Friday. She was followed by Kendra Murray, who finished in 14:56.
Recording the fastest time on the male’s 7.5-kilometre race (three laps), was John Parry (17:43), who skies with the University of Alaska ski team, followed by juniors Knute Johnsgaard at 17:55 and Jeff Wood at 18:31.
In the juvenile male division, Izak Baril Blouin (20:22.5) narrowly outpaced Fabian Brook (20:22.8) while Trevor Bray (24:24) took third.
For the midget girls category, Cambria Fuerstner (18:35) came first, closely followed by Alexis Gee (18:41) and Kassi Wright (19:12).
In the midget boys 2.5-kilometre race, Marcus Deuling topped the field with a time of 9:11, beating out second place Tristan Sparks (9:58), Mac Prawdzik (11:16) and Andrew Seal (11:35).
Although just the first event of the season, the outcomes could have long-term implications for some skiers, since the Sumanik races double as the trials for the Arctic Winter Games. However, selections for the team will not be announced until after this Saturday’s Don Sumanik Classic Technique race.
“For the Arctic Winter Games they have to do both races,” said Alain Masson, who sits on the Cross Country Yukon’s high-performance committee that will make the selections for the Winter Games team. “One was in skating this Saturday and next weekend is in classic, so we want everyone to try out in each race.
“I think (the racers) looked very good. It was our first official race of the year, so it was great to get this underway and there were wonderful conditions. And we had great performances.”
While skiers looked to the Arctic Games, Chabot kept his attention focused on the nationals, using the Sumanik races as a test run for the course and new timing devices.
“This is our first race this year, we’re trying out some new equipment and we’re experimenting with stadium layouts for nationals,” said Chabot. “I’m glad that a few glitches popped up – let’s get them out of the way and let’s deal with them now, not during nationals when we have 400 skiers here. People across the country will be looking at how we’re doing things.”
Problems included failed information transfers between wireless devices and, in a handful of instances, skiers failed to properly move the starting wand to start the timer.
“We just need to tweak that starting block a little bit,” said Chabot.
It will be the first time Whitehorse has hosted the nationals since the junior and open categories were combined in late 1990s. The nationals will also double for Canada’s college and university championships.
“We’re already getting interest from Alaskans as well,” said Chabot. “They are maybe not eligible for all the prizes – they won’t win a Canadian championship medal, for example – but they can win prize money.”
Before the races, about 60 kids participated in the Tim Hortons Ski’ll Fest, featuring an array of activities, including dodge ball, obstacle courses and a tug-of-war.
“It’s a great way for the younger kids to learn skills, have fun in a festive environment,” said Chabot.
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