It wasn’t easy, but the crew at the Canmore Nordic Centre got it done. Warmer temperatures last winter limited the production (and ultimately the stockpiling) of artificial snow — the stuff essential for Canada’s preseason, home-based training each October in Canmore, Alberta. But last week, organizers were able to roll out a one-kilometer loop of snow, which was shorter than usual but enough to hold at least one race: the Frozen Thunder classic sprint on Monday.
“We have a slightly smaller loop than we had before because we had so many warm temperatures last February and March; they couldn’t actually blow the snow,” Canadian National Team Head Coach Justin Wadsworth explained in a phone interview last Friday.
Without a distance race on the docket as well, Wadsworth anticipated the field for the sprint would be smaller.
“I think people did hear that the pile of snow was smaller so the U.S. and some of our Eastern Canadian clubs and programs have decided to stay where they are and not ski on a smaller loop,” he said. “There’s also a snow pile at Forêt Montmorency in Quebec so they’ll start grooming there fairly soon. Thunder Bay and a lot of the Quebec and Ontario teams will be there training.”
The Frozen Thunder sprint drew just over 50 competitors for the King’s Court format, which allowed everybody — junior men, junior women, senior men, and senior women — to compete in a mixed field and race a qualifier and three heats.
Best known as a distance skier, Emily Nishikawa, the woman with the most World Cup experience currently on Canada’s national team, earned the senior women’s sprint title. In the final, she topped two junior men, Peter Hicks and Alec Stapff, and senior woman Andrea Dupont (Rocky Mountain Racers) to do so.
“Frozen Thunder is always a fun way to start off the race season, it was good to get a bib on and push hard, but in a low-key, relaxed atmosphere,” Nishikawa, 26, wrote in an email. “I was racing against younger boys for most of my heats, so that was fun and different. The conditions were pretty soft on the track, but it is good to practice skiing in that type of condition. I was pleasantly surprised to do that well in a sprint race, as I have been focusing more on distance racing!”
Canadian World Cup Team member Lenny Valjas, 26, dominated the senior men’s field, winning each of his heats and beating fellow national-team members Jess Cockney and Ivan Babikov, and Julien Locke (Black Jack) in the final.
“Lenny’s back as good as we’ve ever seen him before,” Wadsworth said before the sprint. “He’s super fit. He’s had a consistent summer of training.”
Both Nishikawa and Valjas set the fastest times in the morning qualifier by nearly four seconds.
— Jason Albert contributed reporting