Making tracks

🕔Jan 30, 2007

Simon Jones bounces up and down on his skis, swinging his arms to keep warm in the blustery wind and laughing with his friends. It’s the end of a weekend-long snow camp for the Bulkley Valley Cross Country Ski Club’s junior team. Jones—the oldest in the group—is surrounded by nearly 50 teammates, age 9 and up, as he waits his turn to compete in a friendly relay race against his pals.

It’s been an inspiring season for the 17-year-old Smithers resident, starting off with a strong first-place finish in an 800-metre sprint race in Burns Lake. In fact, the entire team is feeling the motivation that comes with the Western Canadian Championships taking place on home turf this month. But winning aside, this is what Jones loves most about competitive skiing: hanging out with friends and getting a bit of exercise.

“This year is my most serious year because it’s my last year to show how good I can be,” says Jones, a Grade 12 student at Smithers Secondary School, with hopes of attending UBC, UVic or UNBC next year. He admits that the lure of a scholarship hasn’t hurt his motivation.

“I didn’t like skiing when I was young, but I like it now. All my friends do it. I get to hang out with a lot of friends and stay in shape.”

Head coach Sandy Maclean and junior team coach Lisa Perry, both of whom started their racing careers as members of the Bulkley Valley junior team well over a decade ago, agree that the team has seen a change in direction in recent years. When Maclean, 32, started racing with then coach Gary Murdoch, the club consisted of less than a dozen focused competitors. Today, it hosts a much larger number and the focus is on having fun first, competing second.

“It’s a turning point in the club right now,” says Perry, 27, who is in her second year of coaching the junior team. She says the main goal for coaches is to get the kids outside, having fun and being active. “That’s a huge mission of our club, and then racing is just another way of challenging yourself.”

But don’t take that to mean that the Bulkley Valley junior team isn’t a competitive force to be reckoned with. Smithers contributed four local racers to the current provincial development team roster—quite an accomplishment, considering there are only 17 members total on the development team—sending David Gibb, Eric Holdyk, Morgan Pellow and Steven Hollenberg to the National Championships in Thunder Bay, Ontario last year.

Maclean says he’s optimistic for a similar result this year: “I think there’ll be a few that qualify, for sure,” he says. Team members will be announced in early March, in time for the Nationals in Quebec from March 18 to 25.

Last year, the team also won provincial club championships in Prince George, and the odds of defending the title this season at the BC Championships in Kamloops are looking good, he adds. “That’s another goal that the club as a whole is looking forward to,” he says. “Last year we won the club championships and this year we’re hoping to do the same. The size of the club goes hand in hand with the great facilities [here] and the area we’re in.”

But while rubbing elbows with some of the country’s elite athletes at the Western Canadian Championships and dreams of attending the Nationals later this season are exciting for the junior team, most racers are currently focused on the BC Cup circuit, with races held late January in 100 Mile House, Feb. 8 to 11 in Smithers (along with the Westerns) and the BC Championships in Kamloops on Feb. 24 and 25.

“Being up in the north, we don’t get as many races in,” says Perry, who adds that having such a high-profile race on the horizon has been a motivator for the junior team members. “With the whole group there’s been a shift this year, now that there’s a goal here in Smithers.”

“Our club is awesome for travelling. I’m amazed at the parents—they put a solid effort in. I think we’re known as the hardcores that travel to all the races we can.”

For Jones, preparing for the season has meant training an average of two hours each day, six days a week, as well as finding time for other sports like soccer, Tae Kwon Do and cross-country running. Though he realizes it’s a long shot, he would love to be on the team travelling to the Nationals in Quebec next month.

“There’s not a good chance that I can make it, but I hope to qualify anyway,” says the motivated teen. “BC Cups are mainly what we train for because I’m not really expecting to make the team to go to Nationals. We train hard for all the races.”
But whether or not he finds himself on a flight to Quebec next month, Jones will end his career with the Bulkley Valley juniors knowing he put his all into the season and got just as much back out of it.

“It’s fun,” he says about the team. “Hanging out, working out and friends competing against each other—working hard to beat the guy who’s better than you.”