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Yukon XC skiers get an early start in Canmore

Some of the world’s top cross-country skiers hit some last-season snow at the second annual WinSport Frozen Thunder Classic last Thursday at the Canmore Nordic Centre in Alberta.

Old snow helped kick-start a new ski season last week.

Some of the world’s top cross-country skiers hit some last-season snow at the second annual WinSport Frozen Thunder Classic last Thursday at the Canmore Nordic Centre in Alberta.

At the end of last season, the centre collected a huge pile of snow and stored it under a blanket of sawdust through the off-season. The centre then used the snow to construct a 2.2-kilometre loop, three lanes wide, and voila: a race on real snow before the first snowfall.

The event drew national team skiers from Canada and the U.S., plus a couple from Japan and Austria.

There were also three Yukoners in attendance.

Whitehorse’s Emily Nishikawa, Dahria Beatty and Annah Hanthorn all took part in the 1.5-kilometre classic sprint event.

“It was like a two-kilometre loop of snow from last year and it was really cool,” said Hanthorn. “And it was quite a lot of snow. I was very surprised with the amount of snow that was there.

“It was fun to ski so early in the season too.”

Nishikawa, 24, was the only out of the three to qualify for the playoff heats. She skied to eighth in the qualifying but decided to sit it out after that.

“I did the qualifier in the morning, but then I had a foot - not really an injury, but it has been a bit sore,” said Nishikawa. “I didn’t race the heats. I just want to make sure my body is 100 per cent healthy going into race season. So I didn’t want to risk any injuries.”

A wise move considering this season could be the most important of her career.

Nishikawa and her brother Graham are back on Canada’s senior development team for another season and will vie for spots on Canada’s team for the Sochi Olympic Games in February.

“Obviously I’m super excited to get racing. That’s my favourite part about skiing,” said Emily, who trains out of the Alberta World Cup Academy. “I’m really looking forward to this winter. There are some great opportunities that lie ahead. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully there are some exciting things that could potentially happen this winter for me.”

Beatty placed 18th in the qualifiers, missing the heats by two spots, or by one second, depending on how you’d like to look at it.

“My qualifying event felt good. It was the first race of the year, obviously, and came off a hard training week the week before and definitely had some heavy legs,” said Beatty. “But going into it that morning I was feeling pretty good. It was a good start to the season.

“I opted not to use race skis, so I was using training skis, and when you miss the heats by one second you kind of regret that.”

Beatty, who also trains at the Alberta World Cup Academy in Canmore, is beginning her fourth consecutive season Canada’s national junior team.

She came fourth for junior women and second for her year of birth at the Haywood Ski Nationals last season, collecting a silver and a bronze.

“I think the five- and 10-kilometre events are more my focus, but going into this year I’m hoping to - especially on the junior level - to be strong across the board and work on consistency throughout all the different techniques and distances,” said Beatty.

Hanthorn’s name might not be familiar to Yukon ski fans, but give it time.

The 18-year-old recently moved to Whitehorse from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., where she was a member of the N.W.T. Ski Team. She won a silver at last season’s nationals.

She came to Whitehorse for last season’s Yukon Cross-Country Ski Championships, winning the Gordon Taylor trophy for fastest time on the 10-kilometre course. She obviously liked what she saw.

“Partly because of the coaching and the trails,” said Hanthorn of her decision to move. “We travelled with the Yukon team - went to nationals in Quebec - and visiting here has been really nice. They’ve welcomed us with open arms and allowed us to ski with them when we’ve passed through.

“It’s just really nice, a good environment.”

Last week’s race in Canmore represented her first as a member of the Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club.

She placed 28th in the qualifiers and did not qualify for the heats.

“It was awesome. It was a really neat experience to race some national team athletes and former Olympians,” said Hanthorn. “I thought it went well for the first race.”

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