NorAm Preview: World Cup Starts on the Line and More

Alex KochonNovember 27, 2012
The start of the NorAm men’s 15 k freestyle mass start last December in Rossland, B.C.. It could be chaos this weekend at the NorAm opener in Canmore, Alberta, with hundreds of Canadians vying for World Cup starts.

Last weekend in West Yellowstone, Mont., the U.S. SuperTour opener drew a grand total of about two Canadians, which isn’t to say the races weren’t competitive. With nearly 300 entered in the distance race, including a couple Norwegians, Australians and even a Brazilian, they were.

So why no representation from the neighbors to the north? Well, up in Canada there’s a little thing called the World Cup that’s about to take place in 10 days, and its qualifiers start Saturday when the NorAm circuit kicks off in Canmore, Alberta.

While SuperTour skiers continue to seek World Cup starts at their qualifiers Thursday through Sunday in Bozeman, Mont. (U.S. quota spots are awarded based on SuperTour standings after West Yellowstone and Bozeman), the Canadians will be shooting to make their national quota in just two races this weekend.

The difference is Canada as the host nation of the Québec and Alberta World Cups (Dec. 7-8 and Dec. 13-16, respectively) can enter 14 athletes per gender per individual race. The U.S. gets nine. Of those, four will be World Cup team members from each country, leaving up to 10 openings for domestic skiers in Canada and five in the U.S. for each competition.

In Canada, nine skiers have already prequalified for certain races (after meeting national criteria last season), and most already accepted the starts. According to Cross Country Canada (CCC) High Performance Director Tom Holland, the rest can decide whether they’ll race the Canadian World Cups after this weekend’s qualifiers in Canmore.

Of the nine, national biathlete Rosanna Crawford turned down cross-country World Cup sprints in both Québec and Alberta to chase a chance to race at Biathlon World Championships this winter. National Senior Development Team/Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) member Kevin Sandau, who’s already in Europe taking advantage of World Cup starts he earned on the NorAm last year, qualified for every Canadian World Cup race (with the exception of Québec’s team sprint). Even so, he planned to skip the Québec sprints and fly directly home to Canmore to prepare for the World Cup distance races there.

In an email, Sandau wrote that he might do the Sovereign Lake NorAm, the second on the circuit Dec. 8-9 near Silver Star, British Columbia, instead. It all depends on his energy, he explained.

Last year’s overall NorAm winner, Brent McMurtry (AWCA/NST) also won starts in every Canadian World Cup (as did women’s leader Alysson Marshall and her AWCA/NST teammate, NorAm runner-up Emily Nishikawa). Despite McMurtry’s strengths in distance over sprints, he plans to race all the Canadian World Cups in an effort to notch a top 12 in one of them. Why the lofty goal? McMurtry, like so many other Canadian development skiers, wants to qualify for World Championships in late February/early March.

“That means that I’ll need to be racing really fast at the World Cups in Canmore,” McMurtry said. “Top twelve is a pretty big result, but a lot of it depends of the field of guys who are here. There’s lots of factors, but I think that’s within my reach.”

There’s a lot of pressure riding on these first races of the season, and even prequalified skiers like McMurtry are feeling it. He will race for the first time this season in Canmore this weekend, and less than a week later, will have to get the World Cup jitters out in Québec.

What someone would give to race at the Canadian World Cups in the first place. At most, they only come every two years with the last one taking place right before the 2010 Olympics in Canmore.

That’s where these first NorAms come in. While the favorites mostly come from national training centres, like the World Cup Academy (see also: Thunder BayPierre-Harvey and Callaghan Valley), there are a few independent/other racers (think Amanda Ammar of the Canmore Nordic Centre and the Yukon elite skiers) who are also gunning to finish atop the NorAm sprint and distance races this weekend.

Here’s a brief breakdown of last year’s NorAm leaders and who to watch this year:

Top 6 Men

1.          Brent McMurtry (AWCA/NST) Formerly of the Pierre-Harvey NTC (CNEPH) in Québec, he’s been training in Canmore since he was a kid and is now part of the Academy with perennial rival Kevin Sandau. This year, he and Sandau once again have the same goals: race internationally as much as possible.

2.         Kevin Sandau (AWCA/NST) He didn’t exactly win last year’s NorAm title, but he essentially took the cake by leading pivotal periods and thus earning World Cup starts. He started and ended last season in Europe and finished with personal best results at World Cup Finals, so there’s no reason to think he’ll aim for anything else this winter.

3.          Jesse Cockney (AWCA/NST) Another senior development skier, Cockney is known for his sprinting prowess, but he hung in for seventh at the Canadian Nationals 50 k classic mass start in March in Mont Sainte-Anne, Québec. And that was 10 laps.

4.          Graeme Killick (AWCA/NST) Are we seeing a trend? Expect the Academy men to once again hog the NorAm podium throughout the season. Killick won two races last year: the West Yellowstone SuperTour 10 k classic and the Mont Orford NorAm 15 k freestyle. While he didn’t notch a victory at nationals last year (World Cup members Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw took care of that), Killick has two national titles from 2010 and two silvers from 2011 in distance races.

5.         Pate Neumann  (Canmore Nordic Ski Club) Not on the Academy this year, Neumann’s a bit of an unknown. He’s been busy as the Haig Glacier coordinator in Canmore, but he’s also known to bust out NorAm podiums once the racing season starts. Last year was one of his best with two second-place results and a third in NorAm distance races.

6.          Graham Nishikawa (AWCA/NST) You might recognize this guy from as a World Cup racer last year and several seasons before that. While he didn’t win last year’s NorAm to secure overseas starts in the first period of this season, he’s good to go in Canmore after prequalifying for the Alberta World Cup skiathlon. This is someone you shouldn’t rule out of any race: he’s won both NorAm sprints and 30+ k distance events.


  • Erik Carleton (Para-Nordic World Cup Team) Prequalified for Alberta World Cup 15 k classic mass start and 30 k skiathlon. Technically fifth on the 2011/2012 NorAm standings (behind Sandau, McMurtry, Cockney and Nishikawa) he was second to World Cup skier Ivan Babikov in the 10 k classic interval start at Canadian Nationals last year and seventh in the 15 k skate the next day. Won’t be racing many NorAms because of his international race schedule as a guide for Brian McKeever on the IPC World Cup (the two swept IPC World Cup Finals last year), but is someone to watch when he does find time to race in Canada.
  • Michael Somppi (AWCA/NST) Formerly of Thunder Bay, the ninth-place NorAm finisher last year is trying something new with the Academy and has ramped up the intensity in doing so. First, he’s shooting to qualify for the Canadian World Cups and if he does that, aiming for a top 30 there. This is another one that could pull out a stellar result in either a distance or sprint race; he’s been known to do both. Third in 10 k classic at nationals last year.
  • David Greer (YES) Previously raced for CNEPH, now with the newly formed Yukon Elite Squad (with Colin Abbot, Knute Johnsgaard, John Parry and Fabian Brook). Fourth in the 15 k skate at nationals last year.
  • Phil Widmer (AWCA) Prequalified for all the World Cup sprints after winning being a top qualifier at nationals last year. Also strong at the 10 to 15 k distances, with a fourth-place finish in the 15 k skate at nationals.
Alberta World Cup Academy women, including Alana Thomas (back left), Alysson Marshall (second from back left) and Emily Nishikawa (second from front right) during a summer hike up Centennial Ridge near Canmore, Alberta. (Alana Thomas courtesy photo)


Top 6 Women

1.          Alysson Marshall (AWCA/NST) A World Cup racer who appeared on the circuit at the beginning and end of last season, Marshall made it into the points last year when she placed 28th at a World Cup classic sprint in Stockholm. The sprinter missed the first non-World Cup races this season due to a cold, but has otherwise been healthy this training season and has her sights set on qualifying for World Championships. In an email, she confirmed she planned to race all the Canadian World Cups she prequalified for.

2.          Emily Nishikawa (AWCA/NST) Marshall’s teammate and main contender on the NorAm last year, Nishikawa joined her for training camps with the Canadian women’s World Cup team throughout the summer. This season, she’s looking to build on the momentum from last year, which included a national title in the 10 k skate and multiple NorAm distance wins.

3.          Amanda Ammar (Canmore Nordic Ski Center) An independent skier last year, Ammar trained with World Cup members Chandra Crawford and Perianne Jones throughout the offseason. An Olympian who’s trying to make a go of it in World Championships year, expect big things out of Ammar, especially in classic distance races.

4.         Kate Brennan (AWCA) Brennan notched her first NorAm victory last season in a 5 k classic race at Mont Orford and was seventh in the 5 k classic at nationals. If she’s healthy again this year, there’s no reason to expect her to reach the NorAm podium.

5.         Andrea Dupont (Rocky Mountain Racers) Dupont’s got a new teammate in Zoe Roy (formerly of XC Oregon and Stella Racing), which could translate into continued success after some NorAm podiums and a pair of sprint-qualifier wins last season.

6.          Andrea Lee (NDC Thunder Bay) Tenth in the 30 k at nationals last year, this U23 won the Mont Orford NorAm 15 k skate last year and placed fourth in a skate sprint in Whistler. The term “up-and-coming” doesn’t exactly do this racer justice.


  • Alana Thomas (AWCA) New to the Academy, this former Nakkertok skier has been gearing up for the World Cup skiathlon in Canmore, which she prequalified for by placing third at a NorAm 15 k skiathlon (a trials event) at Whistler last year. While it’s one of her favorite races, Thomas also wants to secure other World Cup starts, so look for her to come out firing this weekend.
  • Marlis Kromm (AWCA) The fourth Canadian in the skate sprint at nationals (seventh overall) with a couple of NorAm sprint podiums, she’s also finished in the top 10 of distance races.
  • Heidi Widmer (AWCA) At just 21, she’s one of the Canada’s best domestic skate sprinters with a podium or close to it in every NorAm freestyle sprint. Enough said.
  • Zoe Roy (RMR) A Canadian citizen who’s back from Oregon (and the University of Utah), Roy should be a staple on the NorAm circuit this year – if she doesn’t get over to World Championships first.


NorAm Schedule

  1. Canmore, Alberta: Dec. 1-2 (skate sprint & 15/20 k classic races = World Cup qualifiers for Québec and Alberta races the following two weekends)
  2. Sovereign Lake in Vernon, British Columba: Dec. 8-9 (same weekend as the World Cup skate sprints in Québec City, but race organizers at Sovereign Lake are expecting higher numbers – between 300 and 500 – for the event, which also includes the B.C. Cup.) Includes 10/15 k classic mass start & 10/15 k freestyle
  3. Thunder Bay, Ontario: Jan. 3-6 (first mini tour of the season with 15/20 k skiathlon, classic sprint & 10/15 k freestyle)
  4. Highlands Nordic in Duntroon, Ontario: Jan. 26-27 (classic sprint & 10/15 k freestyle)
  5. Eastern Championships hosted by Nakkertok at Mont Orford, Québec: Feb. 1-3 (mini tour: classic sprint, 10/15 k freestyle, 15/30 k pursuit)
  6. Western Championships hosted by Wapiti Nordic at Grande Prairie, Alberta: Feb. 22-24 (mini tour: freestyle sprint, 10/15 k classic, 15/30 k skate pursuit)

Haywood Ski Nationals at Whistler, B.C.: March 23-30 (team sprint, 5/10 k freestyle, 10/15 k classic, classic sprint, 30/50 k freestyle mass start)


See also: Canada World Cups: Who Gets to Go

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Alex Kochon

Alex Kochon ( is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.

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