When they walk into the cross-country skiing room at the arena in Hudson Bay, children in the Jackrabbit program know their routine: pick up boots and skis, pull on wool socks, and head out the door.
On Jan. 10, a dozen kids did just that before heading out to the ‘downs’, where the club has trails set up in the trees.
Jan. 10 wasn’t a regular after-school training day, however. Andrew Brisbin, who has travelled extensively as a cross-country skiing competitor, was in Hudson Bay to help out during the session.
Brisbin recently picked up a job as high-performance coordinator for Cross-Country Saskatchewan. Thanks in part to the efforts of Gloria Stang, who leads the Jackrabbits program in Hudson Bay, that role includes working with participants from the ground up.
“To have those high performance athletes, you need the grassroots. I wanted that put into the job description too,” said Stang.
Brisbin spent three days in the Northeast town, working with adults, Jackrabbits participants and the Grade 6 class at Hudson Bay Community School. He said his role within the CCS is fairly broad.
“It’s focused on ski racing and improving it and trying to get it to more communities. Those communities that already have race teams, [it’s] giving them as much support as they need,” said the 26-year-old.
A growing program
Stang started with the Hudson Bay Ski Club when she retired in 2009.
“It’s just gradually grown, and there are more and more people skiing. It started out, we just met once a week. Now I do Jackrabbit programming after school three times a week and then the adults come on Sundays,” she said.
“More and more people are getting their own equipment and even making their own trails at home.”
The costs associated with the group are minimal. Each participant, child or adult, pays $25 a year for access to equipment, lessons and trails.
With the club starting to build up membership, Stang would like to see children participating in competitions.
“The challenge, now that we have had skiers in it for a few years, is getting parents committed to letting their little athletes go out of town to compete.”
Brenna Zwozda competed in Humboldt last winter and was very pleased to come home with a first place. The ten-year-old has been cross-country skiing since the age of four.
She has a simple goal for this season:
“Maybe go to the same competition and win again.”
The other competition locations are far from Hudson Bay, with this year’s meets set as far as Prince Albert, Saskatoon and La Ronge.
Enjoying the cold days
Like Stang, Brisbin is seeing the popularity of the sport grow.
“I think it’s because it’s a winter province. More and more people are realizing it’s best not just to stay inside all winter,” he said. “It’s been kind of a niche sport, so we’re trying to expand it and give the option to as many people as possible.
“I’m a bit biased, but I think it’s the best winter sport.”
Once a rookie cross-country skier has the equipment and access to trails, they’ll need a bit of advice. Here’s what Brisbin recommends:
“The biggest adjustment for people getting more comfortable on their skis is that skiing is all about glide. A lot of people have the tendency to kind of run or shuffle on their skis, but to really enjoy skiing, you commit all your weight on one leg and trust your balance and glide it out.”