• Anna Robertson

Chelsea Nordiq youth head west

Eighteen fit and fresh-faced Chelsea Nordiq youth ski racers will head off to meet their cross-country ski twins in Canmore, Alta., for a week of adventure in the Rockies on Nov. 30.


After a COVID hiatus, the semi-annual Chelsea Nordiq ski exchange is back on.

During their Canmore visit, the Chelsea skiers will be treated to some truly challenging trails through the Rockies, and many of them will be seeing the mountains for the first time.


“The mountains are just so incredible,” said parent Natasha Stobert. “I think that will be really exciting for the kids to see.” The participants will also ski trails in Banff and Lake Louise.


For more than 15 years, Chelsea Nordiq has been swapping its skiers with their counterparts on the other side of the country. The exchange happens every two years, but the 2020 program was cancelled due to the pandemic.


There is a lot of excitement around the exchange this year with a feeling that things are returning to normal, said organizer Patty Samm of Edelweiss. She said that people are realizing, “It’s ok to travel; it’s ok to be in groups again.”

Former Chelsea Nordiq racer, Ry Prior, is skiing with the Alberta World Cup Academy Team this year. Joining Ry from the Chelsea club are Sienna Brennan-Raab, Antoine Gauthier and Stella Duncan. The University of Calgary student-athletes train in Canmore and Calgary. Photo courtesy Anna Sellers (Alberta World Cup Academy)

The cross-country skiers are mostly aged 12 and 13, with a few 14-year-olds who missed their opportunity during the pandemic, explained Samm.


“It’s kind of like a coming of age for the kids,” said Samm. For many of them, it’s maybe their first time away from their parents and home for an extended period...Many of them are a little nervous.”


To mitigate the nerves, the skiers will find out who their ski exchange twin is over the next few weeks, so they can get to know each other a little bit online before the trip.

Three chaperones, including Samm and two Chelsea Nordiq coaches, Sean Kennedy and Tony Picard, will accompany the skiers to Canmore and help facilitate the skiing and non-skiing activities.


The exchange is sponsored by Experiences Canada. Each participant is responsible for $150 towards flights and transportation, and Experiences Canada covers the rest of the costs. Students are billeted with families to keep expenses down. One condition of the sponsorship is that about 30 per cent of the activities on the trip have a historical or cultural component designed to foster an appreciation of different regions of the country.


In February, the Canmore skiers will arrive to spend a week with their twins and their host families here in the Hills. They will experience cultural events in Ottawa and the Hills and participate in a “mini-marathon” — a one-day, 40-km ski event involving several cabin stops along the way.


Samm highlighted the fact that Canmore may have spectacular mountains, but something participants from out west always enjoy, is the cozy cabins tucked away in Gatineau Park. This is a new experience for many skiers, complete with cheese sandwiches wrapped in tin foil and grilled on the cabin wood stoves.


Samm suggested that these cabins might even be partially responsible for the strong skiers the Hills produce. Skiing is hard work, and she described outings in Gatineau Park, when her kids were as young as three and four years old, where the cabins made skiing fun, as they were a place to get warm and have lunch.


“We would even have bungee cords attached to our backs. If the kids were tired, they would just grab on, and we would pull them home!” she said.


She said that by making it fun, you can “trick kids” into loving skiing, “and then they’re unstoppable.” By the time they are 14, she said the racers are “so fast and so fearless. It’s like they are born with skis on their feet.”


Cross-country skiers from Quebec have traditionally performed well on the world stage, and skiers from the Hills are getting stronger every year, according to Samm. Laura Leclair, who started as a 5-year-old jackrabbit with Chelsea Nordiq, represented Canada at the Olympics last winter. Four club skiers, Ry Prior, Sienna Brennan-Raab, Antoine Gauthier, and Stella Duncan, are currently skiing with the Alberta World Cup Academy Team and studying at the University of Calgary.


According to Samm, while it is an individual sport, the camaraderie of the kids keeps them engaged in skiing. They race as a team. They encourage each other and push each other. They train together, and they work together to get their results.


The Chelsea Nordiq ski exchange racers are currently training three times a week in preparation for the season and the exchange itself.


To support the skiers, look out for fundraising events in the coming weeks. Funds will be used to cover the costs of hosting Canmore and showing them the sights in Ottawa and the Hills when they visit in February. Visit chelseanordiq.ca for more information.


Get ready for your ski season! Chelsea Nordiq hosts its annual Ski Swap on Nov. 6 at Philemon Wright High School.