The following is an exclusive article by journeyman XC writer Jonathan Wiesel who had the fortune to be on hand at the December 2005 Canmore, Canada World Cup events. Many thanks to Jonathan for sharing this insight to the elite scene for BOTH the recreational and performance XC worlds. You can find a whole lot more good stuff by Jonathan at www.jonathanwiesel.com.
“World class” is one of my least favorite cliché. Still, the recent Alberta Centennial World Cup races at Canmore, Alberta (December 15, 17, 18, 2005), came off so faultlessly—and at such a magnificent site—that I’m going to have to be more tolerant. Everything was spectacular despite slow snow and temperatures that had spectators jumping up and down and waving their arms.
It’s always nice to have expectations exceeded. These were the first elite races I’ve ever seen, and (sorry!) I figured to be a little bored. Y’know, great athletes going around in circles aren’t necessarily a prescription for exhilaration.
Well, I was wrong on that one! Watching and talking with spectators, volunteers, media, and coaches was an absolute kick in the pants. And watching the best skiers from Scandinavia, Europe, North America, even New Zealand was absolutely inspiring, though their lack of body fat was sometimes scary.
Here’s a piece of good news, or rather fairly solid rumor: There’s a good chance the FIS will bring races back to Canmore in 2007 and 2009, and possibly World Cup biathlon events in 2009. If Canadians continue to clean up as they did at the Sovereign Lake and Canmore races (Beckie Scott and Sara Renner cumulatively took a half-dozen medals in the same number of races), I don’t see how FIS could avoid bringing World Cup races to Canada soon.
And here’s a semi-coherent series of snapshots of what the races were like, from a guy who watched first with interest and then with awe.
There’s something cheerful about Canmore. This seemed to include the whole community during the races—people like the waitress at an Italian restaurant whose husband used to be on the national team; people from town waiting for a bus to pick them up at the Canmore Hotel; and of course the volunteers, many of them local.
Schoolchildren were given the day off and bused up to the Nordic Centre for the first day of races. They were ecstatic, partly to get an extra holiday but also because they got such a kick from the events.
It didn’t seem to matter to anyone that morning temperatures hovered around minus 20 Celsius, the magic point below which FIS races can’t be run. Every day it warmed up just enough that races started on time.
There were all kinds of festivities in town, celebrating Alberta’s first century—things like an evening of food tasting, a free pancake breakfast, music, snow sculpture, and a rodeo presented by the famous Calgary Exhibition & Stampede. Yeehah!
Event organizers say there were around 10,000 spectators over those three days. It was a kick to listen to the medley of accents—Scandinavian, East European, a few Aussies to complement lilting Canadian voices.
“Partisan crowd” doesn’t begin to say it! TV, radio and print media trumpeted Canadian results, and the crowd yelled their hearts out. Beckie and Sara had the best Canadian results (three medals in three races) but every Canadian athlete got an ovation. And there wasn’t any unpleasant nationalism: If you skied well, the spectators loved you, and everyone through final finishers got applause, yells, bells, whistles, even dogs barking...
Okay, I had no idea how complex running elite races could be. It’s amazing! And the most remarkable thing is how smoothly hundreds of people work together in different capacities.
I spent part of a day in the large room devoted to volunteers, listening and watching and asking naive questions.
There were about 400 people from all over Alberta involved with everything: parking, race timing, course control, media, spectator research, food service, even security (there were at least two Royal Canadian Mountain Police)—plus 80 flag bearers and 50 forerunners. They had to be at their stations exactly on time, stay there whatever the circumstances, and then repeat the process with ever race. They were all gracious and good natured, full of chuckles about how smoothly everything went and how well Beckie and Sara were skiing.
A lot of them began training in November (organization began over a year before). They covered their own costs: transport, lodging, and most meals.
As far as I can tell, most of them were ski club members—athletes, coaches, parents--who love the sport. Some of the more senior officials were volunteers from the ’88 Olympics. The best summary I can make is the volunteers smiled a lot and moved fast.
There were over 100 media at the races representing TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, and XC web sites. A lot of us watched most of the races from indoors. The moment the top finishers came in, the rest would flood the media room, yanking off hat and gloves, flexing cold fingers, and then filing stories.
It was an affable group, genuinely interested in XC skiing and generally well informed on the top skiers. After medal presentations, a bunch would walk down to another building for interviews with the winners.
Beckie Scott took silver the first day in the Interval Start Ladies 10 km. One of us asked Russia’s Julija Tchepalova, who took first, whether the Canadian women were skiing better this year. She gave something between a snort and a strangled cough (Beckie beat her two days later), then spoke for maybe 30 seconds in Russian, eyebrows wiggling up and down. The translation: “Yes,” which didn’t seem to say it all.
What You’ll Find Next Year
Alberta is spending $23.1 million for better and more nordic facilities. Results are already fantastic, and not just for racers.
The 1988 Olympic race courses were extremely tough, accentuated by Canmore’s relatively high altitude (around 4,300 feet). Trails now are wider and generally gentler. Recreational skiers are already crazy about these changes. They’re also getting 6.5k of new trails with snowmaking and lighting. And that’s just for starters! Elite racers will get all sorts of goodies, including more trails and snowmaking. (Canmore is home to Canada’s national biathlon and XC ski teams.)
Don’t wait for the next World Cup races to visit Canmore. It’s not just great skiing and an incredibly beautiful setting—they’re going to make snow when no one else has it.