Whitehorse has been producing some of the country’s best cross-country skiers for years. Three Whitehorse skiers are on national teams and are training full time at the Alberta World Cup Academy in Canmore, Alberta.
But five of Whitehorse’s best are taking another route.
Instead of training at an Outside academy, David Greer, Knute Johnsgaard, Colin Abbott, John Parry and Fabian Brook have combined to form the Yukon Elite Squad (Y.E.S.).
“For a while now, all of us wanted to do something like this,” said Greer. “It just hasn’t worked out timing wise. This coming season everything fell into place for us and it seemed like the right time to do it.”
The strength of Y.E.S., which was formed in April, is not just that each member is a high-level athlete, but that they know how to train properly and can motivate each other.
Greer spent the last five years at Quebec’s Pierre Harvey Training Centre. Johnsgaard was at Pierre Harvey the last two years. Abbott was at the Callaghan Valley Training Centre last year in Whistler, B.C. Parry spent four years skiing NCAA for the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“I’m really happy with the time I spent there and I’ve learned a lot, and I’m very grateful for the training I’ve done there, but I thought it was time to do something new,” said Greer.
With the exception of Brook, who is fresh out of high school and, at 18, the youngest on the team, “the rest of us have been training full-time with other training centres across Canada and have definitely picked up a lot over the years,” said Greer. “So we know how to train, we know what’s best for us, so we don’t need a full-time coaching staff that other centres have.”
All five Y.E.S. members were born and raised in the Yukon and have skied on the Yukon Ski Team. Three have been on the Junior National Team and one on the National Development Team. Three have competed at the World Junior/Under 23 Championships.
The five together have accumulated 12 national titles.
“I don’t think the Yukon has ever had this many high-level men’s skiers, all from the same generation, that can do this,” said Greer. “I think this is the strongest generation of skiers we’ve ever had in the Yukon.”
The Y.E.S. skiers haven’t turned their back on where they got their starts. They are all members of the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club and the Yukon Ski Team. In fact, Alain Masson, who is the head coach for the Yukon team, also coaches Y.E.S.
“We’re all members of the team, we’re just off to the side in our own sector,” said Greer. “The club mostly trains those who are young and after school.”
The off-season was a busy one for Y.E.S. In addition to roller skiing on pavement, the team spent weeks on snow, training on the Denver Glacier outside of Skagway, Alaska, and the Eagle Glacier outside of Anchorage, Alaska.
“We’ve had an amazing summer of training, really diverse, really unique,” said Parry. “We did two on-snow glacier camps. So we spent a good portion of July and August up in the mountains on snow.
“Two things I’d say that have made it great up to this point are, for one, the unique training opportunities that we get up north here, as well as the strength of our numbers and our drives and how we push each other to achieve our personal best in training every day.”
Their eight training sessions a week have paved the way to wins in other sports.
All five were members of Team Scarecrow, which won its third consecutive open title at the Klondike Trail of ‘98 Road Relay running race in September.
Johnsgaard, Greer and Parry – and former member Ray Sabo – won the four-person men’s division in the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay in June.
In the annual Haeckel Hill Run in Whitehorse, Y.E.S. members, including Sabo, took the top six spots in the race.
“When we were younger in high school we’d always do these events, but in the past couple of years we’d always be gone,” said Greer.
Y.E.S. has some lofty, yet obtainable, goals for this season.
Abbott and Johnsgaard are both in the under-23 age group while Brook is still a junior, so those three are hoping to qualify for this season’s World Junior/Under 23 Championships.
Greer and Parry, and any teammate who doesn’t make the worlds team, will focus on the Haywood NorAm Series in Canada. This year there are also two FIS Cross-Country World Cup events coming to Canada and are the first world cups held in North America in a couple years. The world cup races are firmly in the team’s sights.
“We all have a good chance at making those world cups, so it’ll be pretty exciting to have those world cups in our home country,” said Greer. “It’s a big deal. All the best guys in the world will be there. To be able to perform in a race like that would be huge. So that’s definitely a goal for us.”
It’s a little early to be looking past this season, but Y.E.S. hasn’t ruled out expanding the team next year to include other skiers, including females. The Yukon has some very talented female skiers, including national team skiers Emily Nishikawa and Dahria Beatty, and Greer’s sister Janelle, who is currently training at the Alberta World Cup Academy.
“If the girls see that what we’re doing is a success, and would like to do something like that, we would definitely support that,” said Greer.
“We did have interest from skiers down south outside of the Yukon,” he added. “We decided, for the first year, it would make matters simpler, to keep it for Yukon residents only.”
More information can be found at Y.E.S.‘s website at www.yukonelitesquad.ca.
“We’ve all achieved personal bests; we’ve shattered some of our previous records in the weight room, on the road, on the trails; we’ve completed a huge spectrum of training; and now we’re narrowing our focus on the Canada Cup circuit and the domestic world cups,” said Parry. “We’re more motivated than ever and we’re ready to go for it.”
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