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Whitehorse selected to host 2016 Haywood Ski Nationals

Canada's top skiers will return to Whitehorse in 2016. That is, the ones who don't already live here.

Canada’s top skiers will return to Whitehorse in 2016. That is, the ones who don’t already live here.

Whitehorse will host the 2016 Haywood Ski Nationals, Canada’s cross-country ski championships, Cross Country Canada announced Wednesday.

“I was thrilled,” said Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club executive Claude Chabot, who will be chief of competition.

“It is something we’ve been working on ... on the other hand: the work begins. It’s a huge job, but it’s fun and we always enjoy these things.

“It’s an exciting thing. I think these sort of things are good for the ski club and the ski community in general, and good for the city ... It’s great for the economy.”

“(I’m) extremely happy, proud we’re going to be organizing the nationals again,” said Yukon Ski Team head coach Alain Masson. “I can’t wait for the event to happen.”

Between 450 and 500 skiers are expected to compete at the five-day competition tentatively scheduled for March 19-26, 2016. The 89th annual event will include skiers from juvenile to open, male and female, able bodied and Para-nordic, with a number of national titles on the line, including Canadian college and university titles.

The Whitehorse club has plenty of experience hosting major competitions.

Whitehorse hosted the championship in 2010, with the Yukon club placing third in the standings.

The club also hosted the Canada Winter Games in 2007, the Western Canadian Cross Country Ski Championships in 2006, a World Cup and the North American championships in 1981, and another national championship in 1977.

Whitehorse has also hosted the Arctic Winter Games six times, most recently in 2012.

“The ski club aims to host a major event every three or four years, so this fits in with that plan,” said Chabot.

“They used to have separate senior and junior nationals and Whitehorse hosted the junior nationals a couple times way back in the 80s and 90s,” he added. “When they combined the senior and junior nationals it became a big event and this will be just the second time we’ve hosted the combined.”

When Whitehorse hosted the 2010 Haywoods it is estimated the event contributed about $1 million to the local economy.

The hosting club will need to shore-up about 250 volunteers for the event, but that shouldn’t be a problem, said Chabot.

“That’s actually not a big issue,” said Chabot. “We’ve never lacked for good volunteers here ... At the Canada Winter Games, across Whitehorse, we had about 3,000 volunteers. Whitehorse has a very good culture of volunteerism.”

Cross Country Canada’s decision to bring the championship back to Whitehorse was based on a number of factors, said Dave Dyer, the organization’s event director. There’s the quality of the trails and facility, the accessibility of the trails, and the performances of Yukon skiers at major events.

Whitehorse currently has four skiers on national teams. There’s Emily Nishikawa, who competed at the Sochi Olympics, on the senior development team along with fellow Whitehorse skier Dahria Beatty, and Annah Hanthorn on the junior national team. Graham Nishikawa will continue his work with visually impaired Paralympian Brian McKeever on Canada’s Para-Nordic World Cup Team.

“The events committee made the selection based on the excellent facilities available in Whitehorse, the close proximity between accommodations and the ski trails and the solid performance of local skiers on the national and international stages,” said Dyer in a news release.

“We have a good quality trail system,” said Chabot. “They are well developed for racing.

“Another thing that makes them good is the fact they are so accessible. They’re five minutes from downtown. There aren’t too many places where you don’t have to do that much driving.

“To top it all off, there aren’t too many places where you have a six-month ski season ... that contributes to the success of the local skiers too.”

The Yukon Ski Team and the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club set a high watermark at the 2014 Haywood Ski Nationals in March.

Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club tied its previous best finish in the club aggregate standings, and accumulated more hardware than it had in its history. Yukon skiers won 19 medals, propelling the Whitehorse club to a second-place finish out of 59 clubs to tie its previous best from 2007 and 2012.

However, other than sleeping in their own beds and avoiding jetlag, hosting the championship doesn’t give Whitehorse skiers too much of a home field advantage, said Masson.

“Not so much in terms of results,” he said. “You don’t have to travel, you don’t have to deal with a time change, jetlag and the fatigue associated with travel. But it’s mostly to expose our ski community to the event, so young skiers and ski families can see an event like this at home.”

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