Sea to Sky Nordics taking part in Whistler-Quebec exchange 

Biathlon season off to strong start

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Local biathletes shone at the BC Cup event at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre earlier this month.
  • Photo submitted
  • Local biathletes shone at the BC Cup event at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre earlier this month.

A handful of Nordic skiers from Sea to Sky Nordics are set to do a home-and-home with new friends from Quebec's Chelsea Nordiq club.

West Vancouver's Hollyburn Cross Country Ski Club initially planned the exchange through the federal Canada Sports Friendship Exchange Program and later invited Sea to Sky Nordics to take part.

The Chelsea contingent will arrive on Dec. 31 and stay until Jan. 8, while the return trip is set for early February.

Sven Brouwer, who is serving as the lead organizer on the Chelsea side, said the club wants to hold an exchange for its 12- and 13-year-olds every year.

Last year, Chelsea's racing program connected with Canmore, and this year, its adventure program was hoping to find a match. While Chelsea had approached Hollyburn's adventure program in the past, the idea wasn't viable at the time, Brouwer said. However, he said Hollyburn reached out to make it happen this time around.

"For us, it's an opportunity to go to a different region, see that area there, and see how people are being active in the outdoors," he said. "Cross-country skiing is just the medium, though it's not the only thing we do.

"They get to interact with some kids from a different area, get to know them, and hopefully make some friendships."

Sea to Sky Nordics coach Dave Clark said approximately 14 Quebec athletes will come here, while roughly a dozen B.C. skiers, split between Hollyburn and Sea to Sky, will head east in February.

While here, the Chelsea skiers will be split between Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and the Vancouver area. Some days, the athletes will be split into their geographic Sea to Sky or Hollyburn group, though the entire contingent will have time together in both Whistler and Vancouver during the trip. One day will be devoted to exploring the city, including visiting Stanley Park and Granville Island, among other attractions. Here in Whistler, the group will take in the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre and ride the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. For two nights, all the athletes will stay over at the Whistler Athletes' Centre and get a taste of the Olympic experience.

"It's a great opportunity. They get a chance to stay where the Olympians stayed," Clark said.

During the return trip, the B.C. athletes will visit the annual Winterlude Festival and, conditions permitting, skate on the Rideau Canal. Some skiers will also take part in the Canadian Ski Marathon, where participants can go up to 160 kilometres in two days.

Brouwer said the club was hoping to arrange a tour of the Supreme Court, and looked forward to bringing the westerners to Gatineau Park.

"We have Gatineau Park here, which has got over 220 km of cross-country ski trails, both skating and backcountry. There are a bunch of cabins you can ski to, ski in and stay in," he said. "They'll get that experience as well."

Clark explained that seeing different aspects of Canadian culture will be at the forefront for the travellers as well.

"It's primarily English-speaking, but there's obviously going to be a lot of French around as well. They're getting that exposure to a piece of culture of our country, which is neat," he said.

Brouwer, meanwhile, is excited for his charges to see some new geography when they arrive later this month.

"For most of our kids, it'll be their first experience going out west. It'll be really cool to see the mountains," he said. "We don't quite have mountains, but we've got lots of hills. We're in true boreal forest, with lots of backcountry fun trails to do. It's a good mix."

To access the federal grant, Clark said, each athlete had to pay a small processing fee, but after approval, the travel costs were covered. The hosts then take care of the costs for the visitors for expenses such as meals, admission charges and rentals.

Four local biathletes headed to BC Winter Games

Four Sea to Sky Nordics junior racers qualified for the BC Winter Games in Fort St. John in February.

Through their performances at the qualifier at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre earlier this month, JoJo Ng, Ryan Clark, Sophie Firth and Josie Clifford will all compete at the Games from Feb. 20 to 24.

A fifth club member, Graham Benson is eligible for a wildcard selection and will find out closer to the event if he made it.

Biathlon Series holding opener on Dec. 29

The Whistler Biathlon Society, meanwhile, will host the first of three races as part of its 2019-20 Biathlon Series at Whistler Olympic Park on Dec. 29 with bib pickup at 9:30 a.m. and racing starting at 11 a.m. The competitive categories are first up, while those looking to get into biathlon will take a safety orientation beginning at 1 p.m. before starting their races at 1:45 p.m.

"For the kids that are maybe a little younger and who haven't been competitive yet, or haven't even tried the sport, or adults who haven't tried the sport, in the afternoon, they can come out and try it out, get some of their first experience at racing," said Clark, a volunteer with the Whistler Biathlon Society. "It gives them an opportunity to have a fun, friendly, competitive outing in their sport."

Clark noted that the safety session is primarily to teach people how to use the gun properly and safely.

"You're using live ammo and a real .22. You're not using lasers or air guns or anything like that," he said.

Clark added that for those newer to the skiing aspect, the course can be adapted and shortened.

Registration for the first race closed on Dec. 23. However, the other two races are slated for Feb. 2 and March 7.

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