Just a year ago, Alana Thomas dreamed of making one of Canada’s prestigious national training centres.
The Nakkertok skier and Toronto native had been working toward the goal since she started skiing competitively as a junior. Now 24, Thomas took the unconventional route and went to college, graduating in Carleton University in December 2010 with an economics degree. Ever since, she’s been building back up, training full time and largely seeing results.
Her breakthrough season last year – including her first OPA Tour trip and European racing experience – earned Thomas a spot on the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) in Canmore for 2012/2013. Thomas accepted, jumped on a plane west and settled into her new pad, living with Canadian World Cup skier Chandra Crawford and two others. For the duration of the summer and fall, she trained with nearly a dozen AWCA women in Canmore. Once winter came, she was eager to see how her hard work would pay off.
According to Thomas, it didn’t really.
“You know how you sometimes feel like you’re working away at something and you’re just pushing and pushing, but you’re not really getting anywhere, maybe just treading water?” she said on the phone Wednesday from her parents’ home in Mississauga, Ontario, just outside of Toronto. “That was kind of tough. I was expecting better sensations through the training season.”
In her World Cup debut at her new home in Canmore, Thomas placed around 60th in all three events Dec. 13-16. Dissatisfied with her results, she left the Academy shortly after.
“I think [I was] looking for a bit more fitness and just by leaving the Academy, I got rid of a lot of stress,” Thomas said. “I think I was wasting a lot of energy on things that didn’t really deserve energy. I just feel more relaxed and happy now and working on good training and recovering and just having fun racing.”
Put simply, the coaching style wasn’t the right fit for her, she said. After years of training mostly independently under Nakkertok’s club umbrella, Thomas said it felt good to get back to some of her old training habits. She’ll continue to live in Canmore for the rest of the season and remains affiliated with Nakkertok, but no longer belongs to a training centre.
“It was a hard decision to make because I really wanted to be on the team to train with those 10 or 11 other girls who are so committed and so strong,” Thomas said. “It’s too bad that didn’t work out, but it wasn’t anything personal with the other athletes.”
She’s kept valuable training partners like Zoe Roy of Rocky Mountain Racers, who joined her on a recent trip to Ottawa during a break between NorAms in Thunder Bay and Duntroon, Ontario.
“It made more sense, I thought, than flying back to Canmore for two weeks and spending so much money on that,” Thomas said. “My friend who moved into my old room [in Ottawa] was going away for all of January so I just moved back into my old room and brought my friend Zoe Roy with me. We had tons of fun training in Ottawa.”
After a week and a half there, Thomas headed to Mississauga, about a 1 ½-hour drive from Duntroon, the site of this weekend’s NorAms and Senior World Championships trials.
Nearly three weeks ago at the first half of World Championship trials in Thunder Bay, Thomas placed second in the NorAm skiathlon.
“I felt like I was closer to being back to where I feel like I should be able to ski consistently or can ski,” she said. “It was nice to know, ‘Oh good, I didn’t just waste the whole year training just to get slower.’ ”
Now in fighting position for a distance spot at World Championships in late February in Val di Fiemme, Italy, Thomas has to repeat the feat or win Sunday’s 10 k skate race.
“That was definitely on my list of goals for this year, and so far it seems like a long shot at best, but I’m feeling fit,” Thomas said. “I want to be on the podium this weekend, for sure, and if I get to go to world champs that would be amazing, but if it doesn’t pan out that way, then that’s OK, the season’s not lost.”
As for what she knows about Highland Nordic’s NorAm courses in Duntroon, Thomas said there’s a new sprint course.
“I haven’t skied it yet, but I’ve heard that they’ve added way more climbing to it so that should be exciting for a classic sprint,” she said. “On the skate day, it’s a good mix. There’s some steep hills, there’s some more gradual ones, lots of false flats in there, and a couple exciting downhills.”
She’s looking forward to having her younger brother cheering her on from the sidelines for the first time in six or seven years.
“He’s like, ‘Which day is gonna be less cold? Which one should I come and watch?’ ” Thomas said. “I was like, ‘Saturday’s the classic sprint.’ He’s like, ‘They do sprints in classic now? That’s so weird!’ ”
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) 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.