Indigenous youth blazing trails at Canmore Nordic Centre

About 40 students from Morley Community School, Exshaw School and Lawrence Grassi Middle School are leaving their mark at the Canmore Nordic Centre each week.

The Spirit North Ski Team, with 67 students registered from grades six to eight, is designed to provide Indigenous youth in the area the opportunity to practice and develop their cross-country skiing skills, breaking down barriers and empowering youth.

“We hope the impact is that Indigenous youth feel comfortable accessing space in their communities,” said Jennifer MacPherson, Spirit North regional director.

“The Nordic Centre is an amazing place where some really intense, elite athletes train. Being able to come into that space and know that you’re also welcome there, I think is really important.”

Every Wednesday – weather dependent – students are picked up on a shuttle after school and are brought to the Nordic centre to strap on some skis and enjoy the outdoors for two hours with the help of Spirit North trainers, and a small army of volunteers.

“It’s been a really positive program,” said MacPherson, who noted this is one of the largest programs the non-profit has run in the region. “We hope to create community and create a love of movement in a different way.”

The Ski Team started before the COVID-19 pandemic and made its return in December 2022. It is part of a broader effort to address some of the challenges faced by Indigenous youth in the Bow Valley, providing students opportunities to achieve their full potential in sport, school and life.

The program is of no cost to participants. Spirit North owns all of the ski equipment and was able to include the cost of transportation in its budget this year.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to get more exposure or practice with cross-country skiing,” said Meredith Bratland, Spirit North communications director. “They can play and have fun, and develop their skills.

“The kids are excited and happy to be out there. There might be some nervousness about their own skills and then it just blossoms over time.”

Bratland said there are youth that have been registered in the program since its inception, with nearly five years of practice now under their belts.

“You really get to see their skills progress,” she said. “From getting ready, finding their equipment, warm clothes and getting everything together to when they get on the track.

“Some of them are skiing circles around me.”

Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Rocky Mountain Outlook