Even for a cross country skier, Brent McMurtry spent an obscene amount time this season travelling. His short list of skiing locations in the 2009-2010 season includes New Zealand with the Canadian National Team, World Cup weekends in Estonia, Russia, and Alberta, the Olympic Winter Games, Canadian Nationals in the Yukon and to wrap it all up, US Super Tour finals in Fort Kent, Maine.
When the dust settled on his whirlwind season, 24 year-old McMurtry, a member of Senior Canadian National Ski Team (CNST) had the chance to reflect on a unique season.
McMurtry’s involvement in skiing, like so many other skiers, is a product of parental influence. Both were avid back country skiers, he recalled in a recent interview with Fasterskier, but when his older sister Kim was born, they “decided that back country skiing wasn’t well suited for young kids.” Instead, McMurtry was enrolled in the Jackrabbit program at Foothills Nordic Ski Club (FNSC), based in Calgary, Alberta.
Growing up, he was a member of FNSC, and began racing seriously at around 13 years old. McMurtry benefited from the experience of then-FNSC coach Eric de Nys (now coach of the Canadian Senior Development Team), and described de Nys as “super keen.” At the same time, there was a group of six or seven older skiers who were serious and helped push McMurtry to the next level.
During the week, the group skied at Calgary Olympic Park (COP), the ski jumping and bobsled venue for the 1988 Olympics, which is located in downtown Calgary. From the time he was 12, McMurtry skied three or four times a week at COP. The trail system was far from extensive: “[the loop] was 1.7 km long, or something like that,” he remembers. “I’ve skied around that loop thousands of times.”
At 16, McMurtry was named to the Canadian Junior National Team, and split his time between Canmore, where he was able to train and ski, and Calgary, where he attended high school. During his three year stint on the Junior National Team, he qualified for World Junior Championships each winter.
Following his final year as a Junior, and his final trip to World Junior Championships in Kranj, Slovenia, McMurtry was not named to the Canadian Senior National Team. McMurtry describes the decision as being a result of him “not performing up to expectations.” Instead of getting discouraged, McMurtry turned the situation into a positive. He used the opportunity to “refocus, recommit, and to decide if that’s what I wanted to do. I had to figure out a way to make it happen, and keep on improving,” he said.
In order to preserve his funding, McMurtry needed to join a training centre, and the two options were the National Team Development Center (NTDC) in Thunder Bay, Ontario, or the Centre National d’Entraineur Pierre Harvey (CNEPH) in Quebec City. McMurtry credits Alex Harvey as well as CNEPH coach Louis Bouchard, both of whom he spent time with on trips to World Juniors, as helping him make the decision. “I liked the energy they had, and saw that they were up and coming, and skiing well,” said McMurtry.
Despite his nomination to the NST, McMurtry continues his association with CNEPH, as Bouchard writes his training plans, and he splits his time between Quebec and Alberta. During the summer and winter he is based mainly Canmore, but the spring and fall are spent in Quebec, usually for a total of three or four months a year.
This past season, he qualified for his first Winter Olympic Games by finishing ninth and fourth in the two classic sprints at Canadian Olympic Trials, as well as finishing second in the 50 k classic. However, due to the nature of the selection system, (the only way to qualify on the spot was to win a race outright), McMurtry’s schedule was left in limbo until the team had been decided.
It ended up being to his advantage, as McMurtry was flown to Europe on short notice to race the World Cup weekends in Otepaa, Estonia, and Rybinsk, Russia, where he was able to collect some experience and a few World Cup points before returning to North American for the Canmore World Cup, and his first Olympic Games.
The trip to Vancouver and the Olympic start was the realization of a goal for McMurtry, but he was reluctant to rest on his laurels. “I still feel as though I missed a few opportunities” McMurtry said, “but I think that having that sort of exposure to those events will help me moving forward at that level.”
Those ‘missed opportunities’? At the World Cup weekend in Otepaa, in his sprint qualifier, he crashed on what he calls an “easy corner”, and missed qualifying on a day he felt he could have cracked the top 30. Also, his preparation for the Olympics was not what he imagined. McMurtry ended up sick, and as a result was kept held back in Canmore, and spent the day before the sprint warming up on a pair of his dad’s ten year old skis in Calgary, neither of which he felt was ideal.
With the sting of the lost opportunities still fresh, McMurtry has his set his sights on qualifying for the World Ski Championships in Oslo, and feels as though a top 20 placing is possible. He also hopes to continue his progression on the World Cup circuit, as he holds the International Ski Federation (FIS) regional starting spot for the early World Cup period. McMurtry hopes to capitalize on the opportunity to gain experience and as many World Cup points as possible.
McMurtry is currently taking part in the altitude ‘yo-yo’ camp being run by the Senior CNST, and will be headed to Park City, Utah at the end of the summer with the rest of the CNST, for another training camp.