For some, the big moment was winning a race. For others, the big moment was just gliding out onto the stadium to take up a position to race. The 2022 Teck BC Cross-Country Ski Championships certainly had their intended results out on the course, but it was an event where people could shine as brightly as any medal.
And people, there were.
“We based our initial guesses on getting about 250 racers, but it ended up being 390,” said Kevin Pettersen, the director of competitions for the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club in Prince George. Twenty-two clubs, at least, were represented among those registered. “So many people have joined cross-country ski clubs during COVID because it was a safer recreational activity, one of those things you could still do, because it was outside. Our own club had a surge in membership, and that is a trend all across the country.”
Pettersen said the volunteers, officials, coaches and especially the veteran skiers were not taking this year’s event for granted because there was no finale last year, due to COVID-19 concerns. For many racers, this was their first time in an environment of elite provincial competition.
You don’t come much fresher to the sport than Myles Rosenberger representing the Bulkley Valley Ski Club at the ripe old age of 8. He was the very first medalist to stand on the top of the weekend’s podium, champion of the U8 division coming in 48 seconds ahead of Larch Hills skier Henry Bollans and a minute and a half quicker than Caledonia’s Evan Curran (Ewan Beaulieu, Weston Shanks and the smallest of all, Austin Curran at age 6, rounded out the field) in that 1-km race.
“I like skiing, it’s fun,” said Rosenberger from a perch up on his dad’s shoulders following his victory, but he made it clear he also likes other sports, too.
Meya Musseau came away with the gold for the 2x3.75km race in the U16 Girls category, one of the big-ticket age brackets. It was the Revelstoke skier’s first time at the Caledonia Nordic Ski Centre.
“I think the facilities are great and it’s an awesome spot to be,” she said. “I definitely had some confidence going into the race, I have had some success this season, but I didn’t know the trail and I wasn’t sure about all the competitors. I had some stress over wax issues, but my coach (Zach Hill) figured it out at the last second, so I felt good by race time.”
Her strategy was to set the pace - be among the leaders at all times on the course. She crashed on one of the corners but bounced back and came in 2.1 seconds ahead of Williams Lake skier Anika Wallin and 3.2 seconds ahead of Strathcona’s Carly Ram in third.
Tanner McConkey, 14, was on his home trails for the Teck BC Cross-Country Ski Championships, but that still didn’t ease his nerves. He was among the youngest in the field of 33 competing in the U16 2x5km Classic Technique event with its mass start, and for the interval start 16U-1 Free Technique event the next day. He placed 13th and 5th respectively and came away carrying a lot of new confidence as he looked ahead to his skiing future.
“I was really nervous and I just channeled that into excitement,” said the PGSS student. “I was super unsure how the race would go, and when I was in the race lineup I was super-duper nervous.”
He focused on double poling to get out of the gates and through the stadium section of the race, then finding someone to draft behind.
“I started passing people on the hill and as I started catching people, I was feeling much better it.”
He discovered there was better grip outside of the tracks so he worked at taking advantage of that in the inclined sections.
“There’s a mental game to it,” he said of closing in on passable skiers in front. “I would visualize picking them off on the uphills. I felt so tired going into the second lap, I had never raced a full 10-k before, so I had to think hard about keeping going and just focus on picking off the next racer and the next racer. I couldn’t reach everybody, but that’s what I was thinking about.”
He was having a great time off the trails as well. More time is spent off skis than on them, in the average race day, and when athletes come from all over the province and spend a few days sequestered together, socializing is bound to happen. McConkey said he was good friends, by now, with Strathcona skier Gavin Chatterton who finished a minute ahead of him in the mass start race.
“You get to know each other from previous races,” said McConkey. “I love this sport because everyone is so nice and super kind.”
The applause was robust for little champs like Myles, but also for the more mature awards. The full list of results can be found on the Cross-Country BC website.
The biggest cheer of the day came for the last announcement on the list – the BC Championships Club Trophy. It’s the combined points trophy for the weekend of skiing a club does at the climax event. This year, the roar of appreciation went to the Telemark Nordic Club in West Kelowna.
Brent Hobbs, their volunteer president, was thrilled with a blend of surprise, relief, and validation.
“We have been very close to winning this the past five years, so this year we put out the call to all our members to come participate,” he said. “This award has been pretty much owned by the Larch Hills Club for the past several years, so this feels good. You really have to earn it, when clubs like Larch Hills are out there showing us all how it’s done.”
It was the first time in the history of the Telemark Nordic Club that they’ve won the award, dating back to their inception in 1980.
“If they smile a lot, doing the sport, they will keep coming out. That’s why I tell all the racers, glitter on your face makes you faster,” said Hobbs, who got a lot of participation from his club, which came about eight hours on the highway to reach Prince George.
Pettersen said it is a strong sign of Nordic skiing’s future in BC when so many teams make the trip and are in the running for that overall team trophy.
“There were some good, strong teams,” he said. “Hollyburn is always in the running for it, and they came second. Caledonia really came on strong with our local athletes and came third. So the takeaway there is, it’s great for the sport in this province to have that many clubs vying for that trophy. It shows the diversity and depth of club talent out there.”
Caledonia has won it four times before, the most recent being 2013. Larch Hills won it every year since then, and was only one point behind the Prince George contingent to earn fourth in 2022.
“There is a lot of great camaraderie; everyone raced their best,” said Hobbs of his club’s overall skier-for-skier performance. He spoke glowingly about the facilities and coaches at their disposal in West Kelowna. He also felt Prince George was on the same kind of program, in that regard, of that double offering for their community.
“The volunteers were so great, here,” he said. “Cross-country skiing in BC is very healthy. I’ve skied here at the Caledonia club before. We came up in December, one year, and it was minus-20 so we had to cancel, so this glorious weather is great to have because we all know it can go a different way when you hold an outdoor event. It was just perfect. And it was so great to be around people again.”
The skill level of BC’s Nordic athletes has climbed noticeably in the past 10 years, Hobbs said, and BC is emerging as a powerhouse in cross-country and biathlon, so events like this go a long way to guide that growth and inspire better results at grassroots levels and elite competition alike.
Pettersen said the community and the club were involved in a constant cyclical relationship. The better the events, the better the community engagement; the better the community engagement, the better the events Prince George can attract.
“A really big legacy left by the Teck BC Championships is behind the scenes,” he said. “The biggest one, in my mind, is Sally (Connon)’s new capacity. This was her first time as chief of competition. That had always been Jim (Burbee) up until now. He’s ‘retired’ from that specific role, though he’s helping to mentor Sally. Sally stepped up, and now she has that first experience checked off. We had a lot of new people taking on important roles, and we also have a number of people who have done some of these jobs before and could make things comfortable for the new people, and have the overall experience run smoothly as they mentored a lot of new faces who now won’t be new faces anymore. That chief’s role is critical, though, and Sally really stepped up in a valuable way. We needed certainty in that role and she gave it unconditionally and very capably, which now means we are in an even stronger position going forward with the plans we have for the future. You can’t just parachute someone into that role, or some others we had to cover off, and it’s a great position we now find ourselves in, with a re-building team that is strong and has some real experience, now. Hosting major events has to be led from within a community, and we have those leaders. When you stop, like we all had to do because of COVID, it really takes a while to get all the wheels turning again, build up credentials, build up confidence and an ease with the duties involved in working an event. Hosting the Teck BC Championships and the Canadian Biathlon Championships just galvanizes the people involved – the volunteers, sponsors, participants and their families, everybody involved. We have amazing facilities, and that is growing all the time as well, as we host major events, but it’s that human infrastructure that really makes everything run.”
The Caledonia Nordic Ski Centre on Otway Road now has about 65 kilometres of wide trails and another 50 kilometres of single-track trails, plus snowshoe routes as well. Several kilometres of the main trails are lit for nighttime skiing, and more are getting the water and electricity services necessary for snow-making capabilities.