While the cross-country skiing season may be but a memory for skiers in Whitehorse, the trails in Old Crow were groomed and ready for the sixth annual Father Mouchet Loppet on April 20.
Pavlina Sudrich, one of the loppet organizers, said the event has grown and grown over the last six years.
When the first loppet was being planned, Sudrich explained, most involved in Old Crow didn’t have any experience with organizing skiing events.
“We were met with enthusiasm, but a healthy dose of confusion as well,” said Sudrich. “Every year that goes by, people have a greater appreciation and understanding of what it takes to put on the loppet and how they can engage with it. It’s infinitely less work.”
This year, Sundrich and co-organizer Knute Johnsgaard arrived in Old Crow on April 17 in time for some weekday skiing prior to the loppet.
“We have the support of the Zzeh Gittlit School, so that’s really great,” said Sudrich. “We ski with (the students) during class time just on the skidoo trails around the school and then we ski with a pack of them after school — whoever really wants to show up to the ski chalet.”
The after-school session was half skiing and half cliff climbing, ending with a hot chocolate boil.
On April 18, a group of Vuntut Gwitchin students from Whitehorse travelled to Old Crow and joined the group for that day’s activities, culminating in a culture camp complete with a moose feast.
Sudrich said April 19 was set aside for prepping the trail, but that the work done by the Canadian Rangers in the community had things in excellent shape.
“The Rangers from Old Crow did a ton of work on the trails so they were actually in pretty mint condition,” said Sudrich, adding that between two and five centimetres of snow fell overnight on the 18th just in time for putting up signage, flagging the trail and setting the track. “On Friday, it was looking kind of icy. Even that fresh skiff of snow made a big difference, but the downhill was still quite icy so we were a little bit worried.”
Luckily for the loppet, the weather on race day was ideal.
“As happens every year, it was sunny on Saturday and the wind died down, so by the time was started racing at 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m., it was just cooking hot,” said Sudrich. “We were actually more afraid the kids would get heat stroke than anything, and the trails softened up really well so the downhills were like snowplowing through butter.”
Sudrich said that turnout for the loppet is typically around 50 people and that community members who aren’t skiers also come out to get involved.
“It’s nice because a lot of people come to support the event who don’t necessarily put on skis,” said Sudrich. “There is an additional 15 or 20 people who show up — they man the fire pit outside, they make sure that we’re timing and they’re cheering kids along the trail.”
Skiers raced in two-kilometre, four-km and eight-km categories based on age, and this year’s race field included skiers as young as three.
“Every year I’m so proud of all the kids who come out and challenge themselves,” said Sudrich, explaining that sometimes it’s as simple as a child who has never skied before having the courage to strap on their skis and race or someone pushing themselves skiing a longer distance.
“Every year we get a bigger and bigger contingent of young people who want to ski the eight-km trail,” said Sudrich. “This year, for the first time, we had two nine-year-olds who skied the eight kilometres — and it took them a long time. It’s fairly daunting to say, ‘Strap on this pair of skis … and we want you to go to Crow Mountain, transect it and then go bombing down the other side.’ That’s a big undertaking.”
New this year was the addition of the Martha Benjamin Award. Named for Martha Benjamin, a resident of Old Crow who is a renowned Canadian athlete that skied around the world as part of Team Canada in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.
“She qualified for the Olympic team when she was in her ‘20s, beating both men and women at the national championships,” said Sudrich. “And she is a very tenacious character.”
That last quality in particular, is what the new award is about — recognizing a skier who “demonstrated real grit and determination” rather than the fastest on the trail.
This year’s award winner was Kayden Bruce, a 10-year-old who skied the eight-km loop and finished fifth in the youth category.
“(The award) went to a young man who always demonstrated a real enthusiasm for skiing,” said Sudrich. “He has always been the first one to run out and grab his skis. Even if he falls 32 times, he’s going to come back the next day.”
For Sudrich, the loppet is a way to bring the generations together around the sport of cross-country skiing.
“I’ve always felt a lot of support from members of the community that have expressed a really deep appreciation for the fact that skiing has been brought back to the community and that their kids and grandkids have this opportunity to connect with the sport and the story of their parents and grandparents and the legacy of Father Mouchet today.”
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at email@example.com
Two kilometre six and under results
1 Izaiah Frost 16:24
2 Remi Lapoint 1:11:30
3 Jack VanFleet 41:17
Four km results
1 Drake Gully-Charlie 2:41
2 Emerald Charlie 28:31
3 Adam Kyikavichik 31:52
4 Esther Lord 38:29
5 Jasmine Charlie 39:46
6 Junior Kyikavichik 42:46
Four km special mention
Desmond Kyikavichik 21:00
Dean Kapuschak 24:25
Jayce Charlie 37:00
Eight km youth results
1 Desmond Kyikavichik 1:21:11
2 Jayce Charlie 1:23:30
3 Gavin Charlie 1:33:00
4 Logan Kyikavichik 1:42:16
5 Kayden Bruce 2:13:10
6 Jonathan Frost 2:18:00
7 Tyson Tizya 2:30:45
Eight km adult results
1 Aurora Sherian-Kuni 1:05:10
2 Trey Charlie 1:09:11
3 Sophie Flather 1:12:48
4 Ryan West 1:19:05
5 Phillip Lapoint 1:21:54
6 Knute Johnsgaard 1:23:30
7 Pavlina Sudrich 1:42:16
8 Nyree Biro 2:12:32
9 Pauline Frost 2:18:00
10 Paula Mowat 2:18:00
11 Hilary Smith 2:30:45
12 Mike Fancie 2:30:45
13 Holly Bull 2:30:45
Two km senior results
Jennifer Kaye 16:07
Cheryl Charlie 16:18
Jaqueline Menzies 19:34
Nicole Birkeland 1:14:40