The 2015/2016 awards continue this week, chosen by the FasterSkier staff based on performances from last season. While not scientific, these points of recognition are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review.
Canadian Breakthrough Skiers
Dahria Beatty, Alberta World Cup Academy/Canadian U23 Development Team
Dahria Beatty is the definition of breakthrough skier of the year for Canada, as the 22-year-old Whitehorse, Yukon, native placed 15th in a World Cup classic sprint in front of a home crowd at the Ski Tour Canada (STC) in Canmore, Alberta.
Before that, her best individual World Cup result had been 32nd in a freestyle sprint in January in Planica, Slovenia. That was two spots away from qualifying for the heats, two spots away from the points, and she blew both away by reaching the quarterfinals in Canmore.
And she almost made the semifinals.
“I pushed really hard and missed out on the lucky loser position by I think 0.3 of a second,” said Beatty, a member of Canada’s U23 Development Team and the Alberta World Cup Academy in Canmore. “It was by far my best result ever … My best result at World Juniors is [15th] so to have that on the senior World Cup level is amazing.”
Beatty opted out of U23 World Championships this year to focus on the STC, of which she raced seven of eight stages.
“You always feel a little bit like maybe I’m not quite good enough to be here,” Beatty told FasterSkier after the Canmore classic sprint. “But having a day like this makes me go, even if some days aren’t that great. There is something in there that I can be able to compete at this level and that’s nice to know.”
Beatty finished the NorAm season as the overall winner and tallied national titles in two out of the four races she competed in at Whitehorse in late March (the 10 k freestyle and skate sprint).
She rivaled World Cup regular and national B-team member Emily Nishikawa throughout the week at nationals, with Nishikawa tallying two titles as well (in the 5 k classic and 30 k classic mass start).
“Emily is a very strong skier, but I think we have a group of girls now ready to join her at the World Cup level,” Beatty told Cross Country Canada, according to a press release. “At least we are certainly ready to try. I think it is time we have a real women’s team over in Europe which is definitely going to make us stronger together if we continue to push each other.”
Beatty topped the overall NorAm standings after nationals with 960 points, 160 more than runner-up Cendrine Browne, of the Pierre Harvey National Training Centre. The NorAm winner for the last two seasons, the 26-year-old Nishikawa placed 14th overall after spending the entire season in Europe.
Knute Johnsgaard, AWCA/Canadian U23+ Development Team
Another Whitehorse native who spent the last season training with the AWCA in Canmore, Johnsgaard, 23, broke into the points in the first stage of the STC. After previously having placed outside the top 50 in World Cup races, Johnsgaard qualified 29th and finished 30th in the freestyle sprint in Gatineau, Quebec.
“Thanks to everyone who helped me score my first World Cup point yesterday!” Johnsgaard tweeted on March 2. “Hopefully many more to come.”
“I was just trying to relax … and maybe make a move on the second lap,” he told FasterSkier after being eliminated in the quarterfinals. “Everyone is so strong … I don’t think it was much about tactics today, just the strongest skiers went through.”
It was his sixth World Cup race. Johnsgaard raced a total of 10 this season, making his international World Cup debut in Planica, Slovenia, and finishing the winter on the overall NorAm podium in third (behind Andy Shields and AWCA teammate Kevin Sandau).
In the season-ending races at nationals, Johnsgaard placed third and fourth in the 10 k classic interval start and 50 k classic mass start, respectively — behind World Cup regulars Alex Harvey and Len Valjas to start the week, and trailing Harvey, Graeme Killick and Ivan Babikov in the final mass start.
Maya MacIssac-Jones, Rocky Mountain Racers
With a six-syllable, three-part name, Maya McIssac-Jones of Rocky Mountain Racers gets our vote for women’s breakout honorable mention. In a single season, this 20 year old won her first NorAm race then proceeded to place 31st in her first European World Cup in Planica.
“I was both shocked and very excited to finish 31st!” MacIsaac-Jones wrote in an email after the Planica skate sprint. “Although I would have loved to race in the heats, my result today gives me confidence and belief in myself that I am capable of top-30 results on the World Cup circuit.”
McIsaac-Jones qualified for the STC, then achieved her goal — finishing 29th in the Stage 1 Gatineau skate sprint.
“It really means a lot for me to be in the points today,” MacIsaac-Jones said afterward. “I hope this will help inspire the other Canadian skiers on the tour with me and I hope this shows we are capable of being in the mix.”
In Stage 3 in Quebec City, she placed 34th in another skate sprint and finished her first World Cup tour in 49th overall. In her final race of the season at nationals, she placed third in the skate sprint (behind Beatty and Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt) and ended up second to Beatty in the NorAm sprint standings (25 points shy of first).
Jess Cockney, Canadian B-team
If we had an award for comeback skier of the year, Cockney would get it, but since we don’t — breakthrough honorable mention makes the most sense for this 26 year old from Yellowknife, N.W.T.
After starting the season on the World Cup and finishing outside the top 60 in individual sprints, Cockney returned to Canada for some NorAm racing and notched podiums in the skate sprint (third place) and 20 k classic mass start (second) at Eastern Canadian Championships.
He made the standard for the STC, and raced to 10th in the skate sprint in Quebec City. It was his best individual World Cup result since placing ninth in the skate sprint in December 2012 in Canmore.
“Man, I have had a really hard go of it this year,” Cockney told FasterSkier after the Quebec City sprint. “Nothing was working at the start of the year … So this is a big lift. I’m really happy with that. Skiing a semifinal is always awesome. Nice to have a two-heat day again.”
In his final race of the season, Cockney placed fourth in the nationals skate sprint behind Harvey, Valjas and NorAm overall sprint winner Julien Locke. He finished the NorAm season ninth in the overall sprint standings.