Nordic Ski Learning Programs Booming at WOP, Lost Lake
By David Burke / Images By Joern Rohde
Last spring, longtime alpine skiers Dana Fleming and Nancy Fearon decided to try something different. The partners from Squamish had heard about the benefits of cross-country skiing and wanted to give it a whirl but, lacking experience, wanted to start their Nordic skiing journey on a solid footing.
The pair signed up for a series of three classic skiing lessons at Whistler Olympic Park (WOP), part of Ski Callaghan (along with Callaghan Country Wilderness Adventures). They were so ecstatic with the experience and the results that they booked three more lessons for the start of this season.
“Before we started the lessons, we had no idea what we were doing, to the point of ‘How do you put these things on?’” Fearon said. “Even though we are comfortable skiers and skaters, I still fell because it took me a few minutes to get the idea that I shouldn’t shift my weight backward.
“In the first lesson, I stayed primarily in one area. In Lessons 2 and 3, I did the [Neverland] loop, and going through that loop with an instructor gave me the confidence to feel like I can do it on my own.”
The pair’s interest in cross country is but one example of the growth spurt that Nordic skiing experienced during the Covid pandemic. That has translated into more people booking lessons at both WOP and Lost Lake, the Nordic trail network near Whistler Village.
During the pandemic, “certainly people were encouraged to get outside and move around, and this is just about the best place in the world to get outside and play,” said Ian Goldstone, owner-operator of Cross Country Connection (CCC), which runs the Nordic ski rental shop and learning programs from the Lost Lake PassivHaus.
“In particular, we’ve noticed an increase in the number of people who are new to Canada, which has been pretty cool,” Goldstone said. “I don’t think [the increased level of interest] will go away. When you find you enjoy being out, you generally keep doing that, and for a lot of people, Nordic is certainly an option.”
While numbers weren’t available for lesson bookings, Ski Callaghan (WOP and Callaghan Country) saw a significant jump in skier visits over the past four years — from 51,200 in pre-Covid 2018-’19 to 73,700 in 2020-’21 and 78,800 last season. Unfortunately, the park closed early in 2019-’20 because of the pandemic.
“We’ve seen an increase number of visits through the Covid period, and that seems to be a continuing trend post-pandemic,” said Nadine Brant, WOP manager of sport and programs. “As a result of that, there’s an increased interest in the sport, and we’re seeing an increase in lessons as well.”
Fearon said she and Fleming find Nordic a more relaxed experience than alpine skiing. “It’s definitely not like the lineups at Whistler Blackcomb,” she said. “The other big difference is there’s no waiting for the lift — it’s just you going out on the trail, and when I’m out there moving, I don’t really have a chance to get cold.”
CCC’s learning programs include three types of lessons: Discover Classic, Ready to Skate and The Private. For newcomers to the sport, it’s important to be a comfortable beginner classic skier before trying skate, also known as “freestyle,” Goldstone said.
While it’s certainly possible to try classic skiing on one’s own, a lesson is recommended “to attain a level of comfort — efficiency, control on uphill and downhill, and most particularly that control for being able to confidently ski the downhills,” Goldstone said.
Instructors at both venues are trained under the auspices of the Canadian Association of Nordic Ski Instructors (CANSI). The certification program provides “a template” to ensure consistency for learners regardless of the instructor, Goldstone said.
WOP offers a variety of lessons for skiers aged 5 and up. The park also hosts winter and spring break camps for kids and the Fast and Fit Progression Clinic, a series of five sessions for adult intermediate to advanced skate skiers.
New this season, the single-session Make Tracks Clinics include Intro to Classic, Intro to Skate (for beginners), Classic Climbs, and Skate Gears (for more experienced skiers). The clinics are open to up to six skiers each, ages 16 and up.
“During the pandemic, private lessons were the thing to do, but now that we’re coming out of that, it’s more about the social aspect, and our clinic programs are in much higher demand,” Brant said.
All of the park’s programs focus on building physical literacy, Brant said. The learning programs also contribute toward the realization of the mission statement of Whistler Sport Legacies, WOP’s parent organization, to “grow sport,” she said.
Fleming said she and Fearon, who are in their 50s, have set a goal for this season of skiing the 14 kilometres for a stay at Callaghan Country’s Journeyman Lodge.
“I just think cross country is a longevity sport, something I can do for many years to come,” she said. “And it cannot be overstated how great it is that we have these facilities on our doorstep, and we wanted to take advantage of that. It’s just such an uplifting place to be.”
Nordic skiing “is a little bit of a hidden gem,” Goldstone said, “and there’s certainly still room to grow at both venues.”