Sit-ski athletes learn new skills, gauge Paralympic dreams at Canmore camp

The camp offers athletes an opportunity to try sit-skiing, a sport that requires custom equipment and lots of upper body strength. (Dave Gilson/CBC - image credit)
The camp offers athletes an opportunity to try sit-skiing, a sport that requires custom equipment and lots of upper body strength. (Dave Gilson/CBC - image credit)

Lily Brook has only met a couple other people who sit-ski.

In her home of Salmon Arm, B.C., she says she and her friend comprise the sit-skiing community.

Getting the opportunity to sit-ski and work on her technique with dozens of other athletes this weekend in Canmore, Alta., was "huge," she said.

"Being here … with so many other sit-skiers is just amazing because I get to learn from them," said Brook, who also participates in wheelchair boxing, wheelchair basketball and Para hockey.

The success of Canada's Para nordic skiers, which includes cross-country skiers and biathletes, has more people with a disability interested in trying out the sport this weekend at Nordiq Canada's annual development camp. It's a chance for athletes with a disability to try nordic skiing and gauge their potential of chasing a Paralympic dream.

"Whether it's recreational, national or international … it's a good event to get exposed, and good for coaches too, to come and learn and see different athletes and try new things," said Kate Boyd, the high performance director for the Para nordic skiing program at Nordiq Canada.

For now, Brook doesn't have goals of competing in sit-skiing — but she's not ruling it out.

"I just want to take skiing wherever it takes me. I'm just going to see what happens," she said. "I've grown to really love this sport.

"It's really been amazing how much this whole community has grown over the past few years."

Dave Gilson/CBC
Dave Gilson/CBC

Others at the camp are chasing their dreams. Catherine Vaillant, a Para athlete from Quebec, wants to make the national Para nordic team. She already competes for Canada in wheelchair racing on the track.

"I wanted to do something else during wintertime than being on my wheelchair, inside, on a roller," she said. "I wanted to be outside a little bit more."

She tried sit-skiing a couple times last season recreationally, but now she's taking it more seriously, This weekend, she's learning as much as she can and aiming to get her classification.

A classification is an assessment of a Para nordic skier's functionality in a classroom setting and on snow. Based on an athlete's impairment, classification determines how athletes are grouped together for standardized competitions.

Growth of Para nordic skiing

More and more Canadian athletes are getting involved in Para nordic skiing, says Boyd.

At the 2022 Beijing Paralympic Games, a team of 12 Para skiers competed, including four sit-skiers. In total, the team came away with 13 medals from cross-country events and four from biathlon.

Collin Cameron, who competes in both Para nordic skiing and biathlon, won three bronze medals in Beijing. He's said it's exciting to see so many athletes at the development camp in Canmore.

"It's just really awesome to see this many new sit-skiers and new standing athletes too," he said. "It bodes well for the program going forward and just hopefully they can come here and be inspired and find joy seeing the mountains and seeing what they can do here."

He thinks the success of Canada's Para nordic program is helping attract athletes and grow the community, which Boyd says is welcome.

"We're hoping to create awareness that our sport is here, we're very competitive on the international scene, and that we're looking to new athletes and creating opportunities for athletes and even recreational [athletes] to get involved," said Boyd.

"We have the equipment, we've got the coaches and let's see what we can do."