Alberta’s erratic winter has claimed another sporting event.
Hundreds of cross-country skiers were left disappointed on Sunday when the second day of racing was cancelled at River Bend Golf and Recreation Area because of icy and unsafe conditions.
Less than 24 hours earlier nearly 300 skiers had been basking in the sun and temperatures that reached as high as 9 C, according to Environment Canada.
“Yesterday we had a great race. It was warm,” said Kelly Bogle, chief of competition, on Sunday morning.
“But, unfortunately, as we know, it cooled off. Now the snow being so warm and then so cold it’s just like ice.
“The kids give ’er full out and with some of these corners with the ice it just wouldn’t be safe.”
Skiers from as far as Yukon and Kimberley, B.C., had travelled to Red Deer for the fifth and sixth races in the competitive Alberta Cup series, as well as the 29th annual Bob Johnstone Loppet.
It’s been a tough year for the Alberta Cup. Races three and four were cancelled in Grande Prairie several weeks ago because of extreme cold.
Weather aside, Red Deer’s venue received good reviews from visitors.
“We had lots of positive comments from the skiers,” Bogle said, adding many were surprised at the hills the venue offered.
Red Deer’s Wade Brown, 15, was among those enjoying the balmy conditions on Saturday.
He has been racing for four years and is a regular competitor at local racers and the Alberta Cups, which are provincial level races.
Brown, who races with the Red Deer Nordic ski team said besides being fun the sport is a great source of exercise.
A cross-country runner and triathlete as well, Brown said cross-country more than holds its own even against those demanding sports.
“For me, it’s probably one of the hardest sports I’ve ever done. It’s just your whole body is moving at the same time, your arms, your legs, your core,” said the Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School student. “It’s really hard work but it pays off.”
Conditions were pretty good on Saturday, he said.
“It’s a little icy, but there are some good spots out there to ski.”
Fellow Red Deer Nordic racer Gavin Rittammer has been cross-country skiing for nine years, encouraged by his mother who wanted a sport the whole family could do.
Besides the challenge, the 15-year-old from Lindsay Thurber enjoys the sensory side of the sport.
“Actually my favourite thing about it is I love the sound of the snow crushing when you ski over it,” he said.
A downhill mountain biker and former BMXer, he too ranks ski racing as a serious challenge.
“You have to get the right wax and train hard. It’s difficult,” he said. Like biking, technique is critical to peformance.
“Being efficient is the key,” he said.
Despite a crash, it was a good day, he said with a laugh.
Emilie Davis, 14, made the six-hour drive from Grande Prairie with her family to race.
She began cross-country skiing from the time she was little and later followed her brothers into racing.
Previously a competitive swimmer, she sees a lot of similarities between the two sports.
“They are both really technical and really aerobic sports. But there’s no uphill in the pool,” she laughed.
The Wapiti Nordic Ski Club member finds the biggest challenge is a personal one, trying to set the bar higher for herself each time out.