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Local skiers gearing up for Grand Tour of Caledonia

Registration opens Dec. 21 for Caledonia Nordic Ski Club virtual race
2017 loppet
A field of 187 skiers turned out to race in the Stride and Glide Sports Spirit of the Rivers Loppet in 2017 at Otway Nordic Centre. COVID has cancelled that race this winter but the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club has a replacement event on tap - the virtual 12-stage Grand Tour of Caledonia.

COVID-19 infection rates were spiking in late November when the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club acted.

The club informed Biathlon Canada it was not willing to jeopardize the health of club volunteers and athletes and cancelled its plans to host the world youth/junior team trials set for the first week of February at Otway Nordic Centre.

At that point, Caledonia club had already ruled out hosting BC Cup cross-country races in January. Every other in-person event, including the Prince George Iceman and the Spirit of the Rivers Loppet, was cancelled by the threat of the virus.

Rather than go into the ski season with nothing to offer members who enjoy the thrill of a race, Caledonia competitions director Kevin Pettersen  came up with a plan for a 12-event virtual Grand Tour of Caledonia .

Starting Jan. 4, participants will get the chance to beat the clock skiing a set course that changes every week.  Each skier will then submit their individual race times to the Zone 4 website which will provide a permanent record of the time for each stage. Each skier who completes all 12 courses will receive a finisher’s medal.

A new course will be unveiled every Monday throughout the three-month program and  to be eligible for weekly prizes in a random draw, times must be submitted by the following Sunday. However, the program is flexible so that if somebody is sick or for some reason unable to complete a stage that week, they can still complete the course any time right up until the final week in March and would still be in line to receive a finisher’s medal if all 12 stages are complete. The stages will get progressively longer over more difficult terrain. The Tour is geared to participation rather than competition to try and appeal to skiers of abilities.

Pettersen got the idea for the virtual race format from his wife Jacqui, a marathoner who has been running virtual races on a treadmill during the pandemic. He hopes to have at least 200 participants enter the Tour and if it proves popular he said it will likely become an annual event.

“It might turn into a huge benefit for us in terms of getting people out,” Pettersen said. “It’s about doing it on your own terms at our own leisure at your own time while being mindful of all the social distance requirements and we’ve developed this from the ground up with that flexibility in mind.”

Club membership has swelled this fall to more than 2,400. That’s 700 more season passes purchasers than  in 2019-20, and more are expected to sign up during the Christmas holidays and Caledonia is on track to overtake Sovereign Lake near Vernon as the largest nordic ski club in the province.

Being creative by offering safe and fun events that discourage crowds and diminish the risk of exposure and transmission of COVID will help the club continue to raise its profile in the city. Very few volunteers will be needed to set up the Tour. Cash sponsors for nine of the 12 weeks are already in place.

The pandemic resulted in new restrictions which suspended adult team activities in city arenas and the public heath order remains in effect through Jan. 8. As cross-country skiers and snowshoers learned last spring when the outbreaks first hit the province and gyms, pools and arenas were closed, the Otway trails provide a safe haven for people looking for a sporting activity away from crowds where physical distancing is easily accomplished.

“We were asked to host the world trials for biathlon and we got our calendar everything was looking good in July but we got into September and things weren’t looking good anymore and I think we were the first club in B.C. to cancel,” said Pettersen.

“We could really see things were going in the wrong direction. We didn’t know what restrictions or conditions would be like because they were changing weekly. It’s not just cold and snow we have to deal with for risks, these are life-threatening things and we didn’t feel right we’d be placing our volunteers or our members or our community in  those situations so that was the driving decision about cancelling the competitions. Doing that early on helped in the sense it allowed us to focus on what we could do.

“It’s always our goal to create something amazing and word-class in our community and to attract more members to support what we’re doing. Overall, the big vision is to get people happy and healthy and the more we can do that, which is reflected in our membership numbers, that’s the ultimate goal.”

Registration for the Tour on starts on Dec. 21 at a cost of $40 per racer, which includes a commemorative toque.