Over 115 athletes, 30 coaches, the full National Development Center Thunder Bay (NDC T-Bay) roster, and Canadian National Ski Team (CNST) World Cup team member Len Valjas. Does this sound like any ski camp you’ve been to this year? Unless you’re in Norway, chances are it sounds more like a skiing fantasy rather than reality.
Yet Ontario’s Team Hardwood, a club just outside of Orillia, Ontario, attracted the massive numbers in a training camp at the end of August.
According to Mark Doble, head coach of Team Hardwood, the club based at Hardwood Ski & Bike and the camp organizer, the total came to 149: 31 coaches, 15 mentor athletes, and 103 junior athletes.
Last year he and Team Hardwood hosted a similar camp. It featured some major star power: American star Kikkan Randall as well as Canadian National Ski Team member Perianne Jones attended, creating a focus for female skiers. Also, then up-and-comers Len Valjas and Graeme Killick were present with Eric de Nys, CNST Development Team coach.
As a result, the turnout was good, as there were over 60 registrants present to take advantage of the high quality athletes and coaches.
But Doble was floored by the response this year. “I was shocked,” he said in an interview with FasterSkier.
He did make a few changes to the camp that he hoped would draw in a few more skiers.
“Going in, we were planning on having great coaches, as well as older athletes to look up to – a couple of different perspectives.”
Doble also attributes the rapid rise in camp participation to simple word-of-mouth.
“The success of last year’s camp, and that we have good rollerskiing got around,” he said.
For Doble, the biggest goal of the camp was to make sure each workout was done at the best possible quality.
“We tried to do everything we could to encourage that,” he said, “We spent a lot of time developing the actual workouts as well as looking at the camp in its entirety to make sure it fit well together.”
The camp had a wide variety of activities, covering all aspects of training: a strength and agility session, several long Zone-1 workouts with technique stations, a Level-4 intensity set, a sprint tactics session led by Len Valjas (CNST) and Harry Seaton (NDC T-Bay), and finally, a cross-country race on the last day. The evenings were jam-packed as well, featuring presentations by the NDC athletes, NDC Head Coach Eric Bailey, and Valjas.
With a camp this size, there are always going to be challenges. In particular, Doble felt that the strength and weights components were important to cover, but difficult with a large group.
“We couldn’t just go lift weights in a gym,” he said, “So we had to find another way to make that portion accessible.”
Instead, he opted to engage a local strength training expert, Brock Tadashore, who did a series of body weight and functional strength exercises with the group, and then had a short question and answer session dealing with some of the most common injuries skiers experience.
Rollerskiing also posed a unique challenge. While Hardwood Ski & Bike is a well-equipped facility, it is a major mountain biking destination in the summer, and as such, has no paved rollerski trails as are found at some large ski centers in North America.
Instead, Doble had to find a stretch of road that was close enough to avoid having to drive massive amounts of athletes, yet with a light enough traffic load that it would be safe.
He opted for a 15 k stretch of mostly deserted country road, one which the local club uses regularly. He managed to find a spot with enough terrain variety for quality intervals, and distance as well.
“The primary goal was to get in a quality workout, but safely,” said Doble.
“The section of road we used has very little traffic, and Hardwood has a good rapport with the locals, who understand and are familiar with people rollerskiing.”
Doble was also clear that when the registrations came pouring in, several volunteers stepped up to help him out.
“Without them [the volunteers] it would be impossible for this to go,” he said.
While Doble had some challenges with organising the large group, he wasn’t the only coach present.
Around 20 coaches from various clubs around the provinces helped Doble corral athletes, and assisted with camp activities.
Doble had a well-qualified collection of coaches to draw upon. Eric Bailey, head coach of the National Development Center Thunder Bay (NDC T-Bay,) his assistant coach Timo Puiras, Cross Country Canada (CCC) Eastern Coaching Coordinator Lisa Patterson and Ontario Ski Team coach Pavlina Sudrich.
In addition to a junior training camp, some 15 mostly senior athletes including the entire NDC Thunder Bay participated as ‘athlete mentors’, where they lead smaller groups of junior athletes, and gave the younger skiers a chance to observe and ask questions of athletes at the next level of development.
The idea of using older athletes as mentors for juniors is not a new one, but Doble had the advantage of having a large number of skiers, as well as some athletes familiar with the area and the system.
“It’s kind of cool actually doing the workouts with the other athletes, instead of just talking to them and then going to do our own training,” Erin Tribe said.
Tribe, a third-year veteran of NDC T-Bay and former Team Hardwood athlete herself was enthusiastic about the camp.
“This is the biggest camp I’ve ever been to!” Tribe said. “I just try to set a good example, and a lot of them are enthusiastic if you’re able to point something out.
“Especially if you’re able to say ‘You’re working on something I’m still working on,’ it’s great for them to hear.”
For Tribe, who has been an athlete in Ontario her whole career, she has seen the evolution of the camp experience personally.
“I think one of the biggest things is the number of coaches,” she said.
“When we’re out there in our small groups of 10 or 20, now there are five coaches around to help out and give tips. As much as were developing athletes at these camps, we’re developing coaches.”
While Tribe gets a kick out of seeing athletes develop, she personally feels the camps add value to her training season.
“I just get really excited all over again,” she said. “I know that I love the sport, and I love training … here there’s so much energy that it’s almost easy to do an 18 hour week followed by an 18 hour week. It makes things easier with all these people around.”
And for Tribe, getting to train with more girls is a bonus, as NDC T-Bay has just three.
“Any age, any level, I’m down,” she said.
“It’s really awesome to see these numbers,” said Jordan Cascagnette, also a former Team Hardwood athlete who has spent the last two years at the Alberta World Cup Academy before joining NDC T-Bay this season.
“It’s been crazy; when I was here as a member of Team Hardwood I did this camp every year, and there were always 20 or maybe 30 athletes at most.”
As for the mentorship experience, Cascagnette thought it was a positive. “It’s cool to be on the other side of the fence,” he said.
“I remember being at these camps when the guys from Thunder Bay would come and train, and I was always a timid guy, so I would just hang back and watch.”
“I think having that role model is great – last year in Canmore when I got the chance to ski with Devon (Kershaw) it was great. Being able to train with someone who is at the level you want to beat is really helpful.”
For the NDC athletes, the timing was good – they were just finishing up a tough block of training in Southern Ontario during the week of the camp, and were able to still get in some quality training.
While the camp was primarily for young athletes, coaches also had a chance for professional development. The club coaches engaged in a coaching development seminar, organized by Pavlina Sudrich.
Sudrich and Doble set up the schedule so that during athlete rest and nap times in the afternoon, the coaches were able to get a little classroom and discussion time.
Featuring seminars on overtraining, yearly training plan construction, and functional movement screening, coaches were able to get a little education. As well, Sudrich organized a mentor-mentee system among coaches at the camp, giving those with less experience a chance to learn.
In terms of the overall success of the camp, Doble viewed the explosion of numbers as a positive development for skiing in the region, and across Canada as a whole.
“I think the trend we’re seeing in Ontario isn’t exclusive to Ontario,” he said, “The quality seems to be getting better and better every year.”
And Doble is already thinking about plans for next year – he hopes another large camp will be hosted in the province again.
“It’s important for our club, and it’s the highlight of the year,” said Doble. “It’s good for clubs to host other clubs.”