It had been decades since it was last considered an official sport in the Algoma District School Board.
Now, cross-country skiing is making an exciting and triumphant return to elementary and high schools across the area.
Around 60 students from White Pines, Korah Collegiate, Superior Heights, as well as St. Mary’s College got together for their second official practice on Wednesday by the Kin Centre at Hiawatha Highlands.
Greg MacLachlan, a teacher from White Pines and one of the high school cross-country organizers, explains that cross-country skiing achieving ‘official sport’ status in the ADSB has been years in the making.
“We were on a path to getting it approved as an official sport several years ago, but then COVID happened,” he says.
“This year, we decided to go for it. We had presentations to the Phys Ed heads around town, and they were very receptive.”
“We talked about the Sault’s cross-country skiing facilities, and how we’re one of the only districts in the north, and Ontario, who didn’t have it as a sport in the schools.”
In partnership with the Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club and Hiawatha Highlands, organizers and coaches held presentations at a variety of schools citywide to provide information on the sport and generate interest.
Students have the option of taking part in one of two divisions: one that’s more competitive and for experienced cross-country skiers, and another that’s designed for kids who are new to the sport.
Working alongside his colleague Kevin Magill, MacLachlan says that skiing can be costly for families, but he explains that they’ve found ways to make it an affordable and enjoyable outlet for everyone.
“The main issue with skiing is gear – it can be an expensive sport,” he says. “So, Hiawatha Highlands and the Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club were very supportive by offering us free ski rentals on Wednesdays.”
MacLachlan points out that the return of cross-country skiing is good news for the more competitive participants who are looking to take part in tournaments.
“Having it back in the high schools gives an opportunity for skiers here that are with the club to compete at NOSSA and OFSAA,” he says. “We’ve always been excluded from that, and we always get questions from the other divisions in northern Ontario about why we aren’t there.”
Two skiers who will have their eyes on representing the Sault at these tournaments are Superior Heights students Kate De Beer and Anna Towle.
They’ve both grown up together and competed on the race team at the Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club for a number of years, and they’re excited to have another outlet to put their skills to the test.
“When it was announced cross-country skiing became a high school sport, we were trying to recruit lots of people to join us,” Towle says. “We have lots of friends that we race with out of town, so NOSSA or OFSAA would be another race that we’d be able to go and see them which is nice.”
“It’s cool seeing all the different people who are testing out skiing for the first time,” De Beer adds.
A pair of newbies to the sport include White Pines students Alder Devries and Gabriel Fournier who are having a blast with it so far.
“I do cross-country running, so I figured it was a good offseason activity,” Devries says. “I was really excited when I found out it was a high school sport. I like the fact we’re in the woods doing stuff.”
“I was looking for something to do, and it seemed fun,” Fournier adds. “I’ve never been skiing in general, so it was kind of hard at first. I fall a lot, but it’s cool. The dynamics of it and being outdoors makes it really fun.”
MacLachlan says the return of cross-country skiing in the elementary and high schools is a win-win for everyone involved.
“Everybody wins,” he says. “Hiawatha Highlands is giving these kids free ski rentals, but to know that half, if not more of these kids, are going to fall in love this sport and potentially become members later is great.”
“It’s also good for tourism,” he adds. “If we can get the city to takeoff as a place where people recognize it as a mountain biking, skiing, cross-country centre, I think it’ll really bump up our tourism industry.”
Cross-country skiers will head to North Bay for NOSSA on Feb. 16 where MacLachlan is hoping to bring upwards of 35 kids depending on how they’re managing here in town.
OFSAA will then follow in the Peterborough area.
“We’ve got some pretty dynamite athletes,” he says. “The more opportunities you give them to race, the better.”
“We’re hoping to get the Sault to host NOSSA eventually,” he adds. “Right now, it’s just Sudbury and North Bay trading back and forth. We’re thinking maybe two or three years down the road once we get the momentum going.”
“Our trails are second to none.”
MacLachlan credits his colleague Shane Dunne for his tireless efforts in ensuring the cross-country ski program could get off the ground running for both the elementary and high school streams.