by Emily Nishikawa
Iwas born and raised Whitehorse, Yukon, and, from a young age, learned to ski at the Whitehorse Cross-country Ski Club. The ski club, located right in the city and a 10-minute drive from my house, has more than 100 kilometres of ski trails. Over the years, the Yukon Ski Team has produced an exceptional number of high-level skiers, and I am often asked, “What is it about the Yukon?” The Yukon has a population of 36,000 and its capital, Whitehorse, has a population of 27,000, and this year, three of the 12 Canadian National Senior Team athletes are from Whitehorse. I often joke that the Yukon produces so many good skiers because we have long winters with lots of snow. While that is very true, there is so much more to the story than that.
I joined the Yukon Ski Team at 13 years old, and it was during my early teen years that my love for cross-country skiing developed. I believe it had to do with its supportive community. I had great teammates, coaches and family – an entire community behind me! I had many role models from Whitehorse to look up to, including Lucy Steele-masson and many of my older teammates. Seeing them perform was motiving and inspiring.
Our summer-training camps went something like this: Pack your tent, sleeping bag and mattress. Pack a Coleman stove, cooking utensils and enough food for a week in a cooler. Bring running shoes and rollerskis as well. Set up a base camp in incredible nearby wilderness areas such as Atlin, B.C. or Haines, Alaska. Each day, embark on our training workouts. As a young teen, some of the most epic and memorable hikes I have ever done occurred in these very training camps. With the guidance of Coach Alain Masson, we tackled Atlin Mountain every year, which could sometimes take up to 12 hours, including two hours of paddling a voyageur canoe to and from the mountain. Although I would be incredibly tired after such adventures, I also finished each day with an incredible sense of accomplishment, which fuelled my passion for the sport.
I had an amazing group of teammates and friends with me on the Yukon Ski Team, whom I'm still great friends with today. We worked hard, especially at these training camps, but, most of all, we had fun! The coaches fostered an amazing environment for all of us and instilled a lifelong love of the sport and the outdoors. I feel so fortunate to have been a part of the program, and I have so many great memories of the amazing places we trained at around the Yukon.
So when I'm asked why the Yukon produces such talent, my answer is that there is an entire community to support every young up-and-coming athlete. Each athlete gets the chance to train in one of the most spectacular environments in the world, in a way that makes you want to come back and do it again tomorrow!