If this was the fall of 2012, winter in Prince George would be four weeks away.
The city was buried by the first snowfall of the season on Oct. 25 last year. Tire shops and winter clothing stores loved it and so did Andrew Casey, head coach of the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club. He has fond recollections of that chilly end to October which brought one of the longest ski seasons in recent memory. They were still skiing in late April and he's hoping it's the start of a trend.
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed," said Casey, about to enter his second season as the Caledonia club coach. "The long season made it easier to avoid the shoulder season. Last year we went from roller skiing one week to skiing the next week."
Casey's arrival last year as the first full-time paid coach in the Caledonia club's history had a direct bearing on the club's results in provincial and national events.
"Last year was fantastic, we won the B.C. championships for the first time in 20 years, a lot of kids with fantastic results with lots of wins on the B.C. Cup circuit and some top-10s at nationals," said Casey. "We went from 27th overall at nationals the year before to 17th."
Last year there were 27 young athletes involved in Caledonia racing programs -- the Junior Racers (cross-country and biathlon), Track Attack (cross-country) and Biathlon Bears (biathlon). That last has now grown to 47. Most of the new racers are in the eight-to-12-year-old age category, having made the jump to the Bears or Track Attack from the club's Jackrabbit learn-to-ski and skill development programs.
Since May 1, Casey has been working a minimum three days per week in dry land sessions with 16 of the clubs provincial-level ski racers. The group is now roller-skiing on city roads two days per week and also engages in regular cycling, running, ski-walking and strength and conditioning exercises.
"To go all year round is draining on volunteers and that's one of the benefits of having a full-time coach," said Casey.
Caledonia's Junior Racers will be heading to Sovereign Lakes near Vernon for a pre-season training camp in mid-November to be attended by most of the country's provincial teams, followed by a Nor-Am race, Dec. 7-8.
The Haywood Ski national cross-country championships in March 2014 are being hosted in Casey's hometown of Corner Brook, Nfld., and he plans to be there as a Team B.C. coach along with at least six Caledonia club skiers.
Heading that list is Sarah Beaudry, a 19-year-old member of the biathlon national youth team, who last year earned a fifth-place result at the world championships. Sage Bialuski, 15, Erika Kreitz, 16, Pippa Roots, 16, Kaia Andal, 14 and Will Andal, 19, are strong candidates to represent the Caledonia club in Newfoundland.
Casey also coaches ski technique to the club's biathletes. Topping that list are national-calibre biathlon specialists Emily Dickson and Claire Lapointe, both of whom could make the grade for Team B.C. at the 2015 Canada Winter Games.
Casey is on the job full time but he's not working alone. The club has a long list of volunteer coaches that includes two-time Olympic biathlete Tony Fiala and his wife Wendy, Erik Jensen, Peder Nesset, Allie Dickson, Robbie Martin, Ed Hoffman, Erica Erasmus, and Pierre Beaudry.
Casey is hoping more parent volunteers will take the clinics that will qualify them as waxing technicians so he can focus more on getting the athletes ready for their races.
Otway will be the site of four major ski racing events, two in cross-country -- Tech B.C. Cup No. 1, Jan. 4-5, and Western Canadian championships, Feb. 14-16 -- and two in biathlon -- B.C. Cup No. 2 on Jan. 31, and the Western Canadian championships, Feb. 1-2. The club will host the Tech northern regional training camp, Oct. 4-6.