Western Canadian Champs: Notes and Quotes

Gerry FursethJanuary 23, 2018
Alberta World Cup Academy's Annika Hicks leads Zina Kocher (Foothills) and Laurence Dumais (AWCA) in Saturday's 10 k classic. (Photo: Doug Stephen)
Annika Hicks of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) leads Zina Kocher (Foothills Nordic) and Laurence Dumais (AWCA) in the women’s 10 k classic mass start on Saturday, Jan. 20 at the NorAm Western Canadian Championships in Red Deer, Alberta. (Photo: Doug Stephen)

The NorAm series moved west to Red Deer, Alberta, for Western Canadian Championships last week from Friday, Jan. 19 to Sunday, Jan. 21, with freestyle sprints, classic mass starts and relays at the River Bend Recreation Area trails.

Each year, the NorAm circuit features both ‘Westerns’ and ‘Easterns’, which are intended to be regional championships so that the younger athletes have the opportunity to experience high-level racing closer to home.

Easterns has been hosted by Nakkertok for 10 of the last 11 seasons. As the venue is within reasonable driving distance of 12 million Canadians, Eastern Canadian Championships has grown dramatically and is often the largest cross-country skiing Continental Cup event in North America with over 700 racers annually.

On the other hand, Westerns visits different venues each year. With only 11.2 million Canadians living in the three Western time zones (spanning British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories), travel is always a limiting factor and the fields are much smaller. There were 403 finishers in Saturday’s classic event.

While this year’s Westerns marked Red Deer Nordic’s first time hosting a NorAm, the club has a rich history in biathlon. Red Deer is also the hometown of retired biathlete Zina Kocher, who transitioned to cross-country skiing this season and was the NorAm series leader at the start of the weekend.

2018 Western Canadian Championships rundowns:

Friday: Freestyle sprints

Saturday: Classic Mass Start

Sunday: Relays

Complete results

Here are some quotes from the top finishers at the three-day Western Championships:

Freestyle Sprints

In the final I took the lead from the beginning, was challenged by Zina [Kocher] in the last 200m but was able to come through in the end.”

Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt (Canadian National Ski Team/Rocky Mountain Racers), won qualifier and A-final

“[It] didn’t go exactly as I had planned in my head, I got too excited coming into the last downhill and went side by side to Olivia when I maybe should have stayed behind. I’m not a very good sprinter to the line, I feel like I’m going fast & giving it all but the last 100m are definitely not my strong point 😜”

Zina Kocher (Foothills Nordic), 2nd in qualifier and A-final

With only 2 heats it was a bit strange too…I have found that I improve as the heats progress. Unfortunately we just didn’t have many women out there this weekend competing.”

— Kocher, on her fourth cross-country sprint race

I had a big focus towards the qualifying and I was stronger today than other days in Canada this year. I was happy to ski the way I planned in the heats, the course was very twisty and hard to pass so leading was important from the start.”

Jess Cockney (Canadian World Cup Team), qualified 2nd and won the A-final. He’s eyeing the sprints at the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics and will finish his preparation in Canmore

“Starting position was super important. Jess skied well and is pretty hard to beat in the finish. I had actually intended to race how Jess raced it  so it was kinda weird to watch someone else race the strategy I was thinking of.”

Russell Kennedy (Team R.A.D.), qualified 1st and finished 2nd in A-final 

Classic Mass Starts

The classic race was a lot of fun, it was exciting for everyone to have a mass start with the open, junior women, and junior girls. I skied in 3rd or 4th for the first two laps and then unintentionally found myself in the lead starting the last lap. That was not my plan but at that point no one else would take the lead, so I skied in front until the final 100m with Annika on my tails and she out-skied me at the end. It was a good fight.” 

— Bouffard-Nesbitt, 2nd place

Olivia, Annika & I broke away from the pack fairly early on… (not sure when, maybe around the 1st lap it was only the 3 of us). I felt good especially in double pole sections. Maybe my best 10k classic thus far … being that it was my 3rd 10k classic race. Still working on the running herringbone sprints, which is where I unfortunately lost Olivia & Annika middle of the last lap. That technique is tricky to grasp!”

— Kocher, 3rd place 

Andy Shields (Lappe Nordic) leads Russell Kennedy during the men’s 15 k classic mass start at Western Canadian Championships in Red Deer, Alberta. Shields went on to win by 9 seconds over Kennedy. (Photo: Doug Stephen)

“We had a huge advantage with my skis and took full advantage of them. I felt great and was able to put in a monster move of the final climb.”

Andy Shields (Lappe Nordic), 1st

I’m really proud of my classic race since I applied my own kick wax! The Caledonia coach, Graeme Moore, is a Red Deer native and SkiGo tech rep, did a great job with testing and took we took a slightly different route than other teams chosing what types of grip wax to use. I ended up going out on a mix of four different brands of grip wax. For glide I was on all SkiGo so I fufilled my role as SkiGo rep that way.”

— Shields

I was pretty happy with my classic race. Was feeling a little flat since I was sick for so long leading up to it but was happy with how my fitness has held together. It was a good day with a pretty fun trail. I pushed kinda early to break the group down a little. Three of us ended up at the front and I lead a little to much on the 3rd lap but held in for a second place!”

— Kennedy

I skied the start of the classic race the way I wanted but made some tactical errors at the end that left me with not enough juice in the last k. I tried to make a break on the last lap from Andy and Russell but I put too much into it and when I couldn’t drop them I had nothing left for when the next attack came.”

Scott Hill (BXC), 3rd


I’m thrilled that relays were added, despite the fact that I won’t be taking part this weekend. I think that one relay per season is a great addition because in the past, Canadians only got to race relays at World Juniors/ U23s or senior Championships.”

— Bouffard-Nesbitt

Relays are great! We don’t get to do enough of them. A fun event that’s a little more low key. They always create interesting race situations.”

— Shields

Its awesome. It’s a good chance for the younger athletes to learn from the older and for teams that don’t usually work together to work together. Plus I think it is good to do 5km every now and then as they are super hard and really good intensity!”

— Kennedy

I really like the addition of a relay on the NorAm. I know that some of the older athletes who are racing a lot and are focused on scoring NorAm points choose to sit the relay out but still having prize money provides a nice incentive. I think having a relay for the younger categories though is really positive and I saw an energy and enthusiasm in the chalet yesterday for the race that you don’t see before an individual race. I think one relay per season is great for the senior categories but I think more would be great for the younger categories.”

— Hill

Red Deer in General

The start of the Red Deer school loppet in 2000. From left to right, Kocher (no hat), Graham Vanderwater (Alberta team), Kit Richmond (red hat, RMR, future NCAA winner), and Drew Goldsack (future Olympian, too fast to catch his face!). (Photo: Kocher family)
The start of the Red Deer school loppet in 2000. From left to right: Kocher (no hat), Graham Vanderwater (Alberta team), Kit Richmond (red hat, RMR, future NCAA champion), and Drew Goldsack (future Olympian, already too fast to catch his face!). (Photo: Zina Kocher)

“[I] had a lot of fun out there and was really great to end my career right where I began. Haven’t raced on these trails since I was 17, so it feels really special. My dad also brought my grandma out to watch me & it’s the first time she’s ever seen me race so that was very special as well. Lots of faces too that I’ve reconnected with today. [I] did a short session with Red Deer Nordic yesterday afternoon, great to be able to give back and provide a little bit of insight. I thoroughly enjoy being able to do this.”

— Kocher, after Friday’s sprint

“I also thought the race course was really fun. … There was very little snow in Red Deer, but the race organisers and volunteers still produced a great race course for us. I was really impressed. The volunteers were all very enthusiastic, the day before the distance race I came across a crew of eight or nine volunteers with shovels and two volunteers driving piles of snow around the entire course covering any bare or rocky spots.”

— Bouffard-Nesbitt

Red Deer has been great! I’ve been wearing two hats this weekend: I’m helping Caledonia Nordic with waxing and obviously trying to race too. It been a lot of early mornings out testing and busy evenings prepping skis so have been managing my energy as best I can.”

— Shields, who doubles as the SkiGo rep for Canada

Easterns vs. Westerns

I think Easterns are a pretty special event, garnering equal or greater racer turnout than Nationals. I don’t think any other competition will be able to rival Easterns, but it would be nice if Westerns drew a few more senior athletes than it did this year. I think Westerns was a big success for the junior categories.”

— Bouffard-Nesbitt, originally from Morin Heights, Quebec, and currently lives in Canmore

It’s nice to have the variety of race formats offered by Westerns and Easterns. It’s too bad there’s no more 30km at Easterns. It was one of my favorite races of the year.”

— Shields

Westerns just can’t compete with the number of skiers that compete at easterns but I think its still an important race for those skiers out west that don’t make the trip to easterns. Having it later in the season might help with more athletes from the east going out.”

— Hill, originally from Toronto


“Memory lane on the Riverbend tracks. Really enjoyed the new changes that have been made, a lot of great work has been done by the Red Deer crew. Was a great skate ski track for today’s relay – great flow & steep uphills. … Awesome to0 that my grandma was able to escape from the hospital & watch me compete in the skate sprints!”

— Kocher

It was fun to fight out the heats with Jess [Cockney], he is an excellent tactician and I think I learn a lot from him every time we race.”

— Kennedy

“We are positive and we all work well together. We also had some amazing training camps together so I am sure that helped!”

— Kennedy, on whether becoming a guide to Brian McKeever has made him faster. Kennedy and Graham Nishikawa will share guiding duties for McKeever at the PyeongChang Paralympics and have both been prominent on the NorAm podium this season

I was in and out of Red Deer pretty quick so I didn’t get to see too much but racing in a new place is always fun and I got drive around a big truck which was awesome.”

— Hill

Skiing doesn't start with the Olympics or end when you retire. Kye Kocher (blond hair) shows his sister Zina how it is done in the Red Deer school loppet. (Photo: Kocher family)
Skiing doesn’t start or end with the Olympics. Kye Kocher (blond hair) shows his sister Zina how it is done in the Red Deer school loppet. (Photo: Zina Kocher)

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Gerry Furseth

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