While the Americans started their European campaign Friday with much fanfare in Muonio, Finland, news from the Canadian National Ski Team (CNST) has been more sparse this past week. Nonetheless, the Canucks will kick off their own competition season on Saturday and Sunday with two races in Bruksvallarna, Sweden—albeit a little more quietly.
Most of the athletes on the team’s World Cup squad, along with a few up-and-comers, are scheduled to start Saturday’s sprint and Sunday’s 15 k, both freestyle races. Nearly 400 others will be in attendance, including members of the Swedish, French, Polish, and Japanese national teams.
“Nobody got sick (yet), and people seem to have handled the travel well,” Devon Kershaw wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier on Thursday. “Everyone on our national team seems to have had a great year of training, and everyone is fired up.”
The Canadians flew across the pond on Sunday night, then spent their first two days in Sweden living trailside and training in Ostersund, the country’s winter sports capital.
All of the members of the Canadian A-team are present save George Grey and Ivan Babikov, who will parachute into Sweden next week in time for the first World Cup in Gallivare.
According to Kershaw, Ostersund had stored enough snow (“a whack load”) to cover six kilometers of trails, and the coverage combined with temperatures in the mid-teens made conditions “pretty sweet for training.”
On Thursday, the team departed for Bruksvallarna, a resort town near the Norwegian border, roughly 100 miles southwest of Ostersund.
That’s where the Canadians will suit up nine athletes for the sprint race on Saturday: Kershaw, Alex Harvey, Stefan Kuhn, Phil Widmer, Brent McMurtry, Len Valjas, Frederic Touchette, Dasha Gaiazova, and Chandra Crawford. All but Crawford will get a second start in the distance race on Sunday.
The fields are competitive, though perhaps not quite as deep as the other season openers in Muonio and Beitostolen, Norway. Saturday’s sprint features Swedish stars of both genders: Hanna Falk, Charlotte Kalla, and Anna Haag on the women’s side, while men will face Emil Jonsson and Bjoern Lind. On Sunday, Sweden’s double Olympic gold medalist Marcus Hellner will be in the mix, as well.
Kershaw won the season-opening distance race in Bruksvallarna last November, but he said that his current fitness isn’t quite at the same level that it was this time last year—and it doesn’t need to be.
“Like always, I am training pretty hard (four hours a day), to get a volume block in prior to [the World Cup mini-tour in] Kuusamo and beyond…so Bruksvallarna and Gallivare could be a bit iffy,” he said. “We won’t all be racing ridiculously fast out of the gun, or we won’t all have boss seasons—that’s for sure…Patience is the key, though. Regardless what happens the next few weeks, it’s early November. I think I speak for most on our team to say that we want to be ready in February, so there’s still plenty of work to do!”
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.