Of the 500-plus cross-country skiers, ski jumpers and Nordic combined athletes who graced the Callaghan Valley during the 2023 FIS Nordic Junior World Ski Championships in January, only one or two have roots in Whistler or Pemberton. Marlie Molinaro is one of them: a 19-year-old member of Nordiq Canada’s cross-country contingent.
It was a milestone week for Molinaro, who first raced on the trails of the Callaghan when she was seven years old. She hasn’t looked back since. It was also a rare opportunity for her and other Canadian cross-country skiers to compete against international rivals on home soil, as major Nordic events come to North America once in a blue moon.
In fact, 2023 is only the third year in history that Canada has hosted a Nordic World Juniors competition.
“It’s super awesome to have all the teams over here,” Molinaro said during the contest. “Typically, the event is hosted somewhere in Europe, so for everyone to come over here and to be able to race on home turf is incredible.
“It was super cool to have so many friends, family members and Canadian fans out on the trails cheering us on all week.”
Molinaro’s mother, Joanne Den Duyf, won’t soon forget the sight of her daughter hustling through Whistler Olympic Park (WOP) in contention against the world’s best.
“Being able to witness your child compete in a world class event in your hometown is surreal!” Den Duyf said. “Marlie’s brothers, her grandmother and I really enjoyed cheering Marlie and her teammates on.
“Marlie worked through much adversity to accomplish her goal of competing at this level in Whistler. I couldn’t be more proud. We are grateful to the volunteers for their tireless efforts throughout the event, as many of them are friends.”
Molinaro completed the junior women’s 10-kilometre individual start back on Feb. 2 in about 30 minutes and 15 seconds. That netted her a 39th-place finish against a deep field of Scandinavians, Americans and her fellow Canadians. She admitted to hoping for a somewhat better result, but was pleased overall with her race tactics.
“There’s some super big climbs on this [Whistler Olympic Park] course,” said Molinaro after her race. “So my goal was just to ski the climbs—especially on the first lap—super relaxed and strong, and try and make up some good time on the flats and rolling terrain and really push those super hard. I think I did a good job trying to execute that.”
Above all, the Sea to Sky athlete is ready to level up her game.
“It was extremely motivating to race against the top level of skiers [at the World Juniors],” she said. “I have left Whistler more motivated than ever to train hard with the hopes of qualifying for the U23 World Championships next year in Slovenia.”
From Spud Valley to Alberta
Although she was born in Squamish, Molinaro grew up in Pemberton until her Grade 8 year. She took part in virtually every sport she could find as a child, with the Spud Valley Nordics being just one of numerous extracurricular commitments in her life. In her youth, Molinaro discovered her appreciation for the competitive elements of organized sport, which also brought her quality outdoor time with friends.
Eventually, she had to choose between skiing and soccer, and knew that her future lay on snow instead of grass.
“I love working toward goals, getting to spend so much time outside in the mountains with my friends and pushing myself as hard as I can,” she said.
As the young Pembertonian began to take cross-country skiing more seriously, she realized that she would need a higher level of training. That’s why she moved to Whistler, where she honed her craft throughout much of high school. In Grade 11, Molinaro switched organizations again to the Revelstoke Nordic Ski Club, where she was able to train with a bevy of fast girls around her age.
Even so, she is deeply grateful for her time with the Whistler Nordics. “Growing up, I had so much fun training and travelling to races with my teammates,” she said. “They’ve definitely influenced me as an athlete.”
After high school, Molinaro moved across the Rockies to represent the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) headquartered in Canmore, Alta—the last Canadian city to host the Nordic World Juniors in 1997. Since its beginnings in 2008, the AWCA has graduated eight athletes to Team Canada, with six competing in the 2010 or 2014 Winter Olympics. It has so far been a productive environment for Molinaro to sharpen her skills among equally driven peers.
“Marlie has been able to adapt to her environments, her teams and her coaches well,” said Den Duyf. “She has made sacrifices and continued on in a sport with a high attrition rate.”
Last month, six other AWCA athletes—Xavier McKeever, Amelia Wells, Ry Prior, Sonjaa Schmidt, Max Hollmann and Anna Stewart—joined Molinaro at the World Juniors. McKeever had the best outing of the bunch, statistically, with two top-16 results in individual races and a sixth-place finish in the mixed team relay.
All gained valuable experience for the future, and they did so together.
“It was super cool to experience World Juniors with so many of the people in my daily training environment,” Molinaro said. “Having such strong teammates to motivate and push you to be better every day is awesome.”
The one-time Pembertonian is pushing to perform at two more high-level contests this year. Next up are the Canada Winter Games in Charlottetown, P.E.I., followed by the Nordiq Canada Ski Nationals in Thunder Bay, Ont. Molinaro has higher aspirations than just cracking the top 40 at these events—she wants a podium or two.