The Yukon Elite Squad hasn’t even started its first competitive season and already other top-notch skiers are flying in to train with them.
The Whitehorse-based cross-country ski team, which was formed in April, is hosting all nine male skiers from the Callaghan Valley Training Centre in B.C. this week.
Word of the Yukon Elite Squad (Y.E.S.) has travelled fast in Canada’s ski community.
“The ski world is a very small world, so everyone knows everyone,” said Chris Manhard, head coach for the Callaghan team. “(Y.E.S.‘s) Colin Abbott used to be on our team last year. David (Greer) and Knute (Johnsgaard) used to be at another training centre, so we would see them very regularly during the winter season.
“On Canada Day Colin emailed us saying there were some good (flight) deals on and we should consider coming up and trying out new snow – seeing what we thought about the Yukon.”
It’s the first pre-season visit to the Yukon by the Callaghan team, which is one of Canada’s four national high-performance centres.
Having training partners like Y.E.S., which includes Greer, Johnsgaard, Abbott, John Parry and Fabian Brook, makes the trip worthwhile for the visiting team, said Greer.
“It’s never happened before in the past because there’s never been a senior team of this calibre, which is us training out of Whitehorse full time,” said Greer. “So if they came up in the past they’d just be training by themselves.
“Now that we’re here we can show them around, show them where to train and what trails are the best. They have people who are doing the same thing as they are.”
The weeklong visit, which wraps up on Friday, is beneficial to both teams. The Callaghan skiers get off their roller skis and on to snow, and Y.E.S. gets to see how they compare to other elite skiers.
“It’s always fun to have new people come and train with you, to mix it up and make it a little more exciting,” said Greer. “We did a training camp with the APU (Alaska Pacific University) team over in Anchorage this summer, but other than that, we’ve been by ourselves all summer. We’re a little excluded from the rest of Canada.
“It’ll be good to see how we stack up against those other guys going into the racing season.”
“It’s exceptional,” said Manhard. “In the south there’s no snow anywhere, including east and western Canada. So we’re in the perfect situation. Hopefully, when we are finished here, it’ll be cold enough in the south that we’ll be able to start skiing again.
“We’re starting before everyone else is on snow, so that gives us a great advantage… There’s the possibility of making this a long-term situation where we can come up here.”
To get the competitive juices flowing, the teams held some relay races on the Jack Fraser Loop on Sunday and will do some sprint races on Wednesday, either at the Whitehorse Nordic Centre or on Pumphouse Lake, depending on snow levels.
This is a particularly good season to be at the top of one’s game in skiing. The Canadian season gets started with Haywood NorAm races in Canmore, Alberta at the start of December. The event is a qualifier for two World Cup events this season in Canada – the first World Cups in North America in a few years.
“Those first races on Dec. 1 and 2 are pretty important because they are not only a NorAm, which is not only a big race to start off with, but they’re the selection races to race the World Cups,” said Greer. “So if we qualify, which most of us have a good chance of doing, then (we’ll be in) the World Cup two weeks later in Canmore.
“That’ll be pretty exciting.”
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 Canada’s 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.
They are all members of the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club and the Yukon Ski Team.
The Callaghan team seems like a good match for Y.E.S.
“Everyone, except for maybe one or two, had medals at nationals (last year),” said Manhard. “All of them have had national medals. Some of them have been to the world juniors, some have been on the national team.”
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