Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

International ski community praises Prince George as host of two-week para nordic world finals

Otway Nordic Centre trails stood up to the test for back-to-back Para Biathlon World Championships and Para Nordic World Cup Finals

After two weeks of hosting the world’s best para athletes in biathlon and cross-country skiing, Prince George has further cemented its international reputation as a city that can get the job done right.

Eight days of competition that brought 200 athletes from 16 countries for the Para Biathlon World Championships/Para Nordic World Cup Finals wrapped up Sunday at Otway Nordic Centre and by all accounts the host committee, backed by the city and the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club, knocked it out of the park.

Athletes, coaches, team leaders, race officials, and international dignitaries raved about how well organized the race events were and the warm reception they received from volunteers and city residents who greeted them in their travels. Everything from organization and timing of the races, the planning that went into preparing the courses, the wheelchair- accessible busses from Diversified Transportation that brought them to the venues, the medal ceremonies and the food and hotel accommodations drew five-star ratings.

Even the fickle weather gods cooperated. A warm and relatively snowless winter was followed by three weeks of cold temperatures and snowfalls that measured close to a foot in February. The cold made it possible for the club’s snow-making equipment to cover the trails under a 45 centimetre base of artificial snow and the real stuff that came later was gravy for groomers who had what they needed to set their tracks for the race courses.

John Aalberg, a two-time Olympian in cross-county skiing from Norway who served as general manager of Whistler Olympic Park during the 2010 Olympics, was chief of competition for both Prince George events this month. Aalberg oversaw course development for the 2002 Olympics at Soldier Hollow, Utah, and also helped design the trails at Callaghan Valley for the 2010 Olympics/Paralympics in Vancouver/Whistler. He was also a race official at the 2019 World Para Nordic Championships in Prince George and he said the city deserves the highest accolades for what it accomplished over the past two weeks hosting the races.

“The teams said it best, they want everybody to do what Prince George did for their future events, setting the standard for what they wish to see, and that‘s good to hear,” Aalberg said.

“Everybody got together and the volunteers were amazing. That’s what Prince George is known for. We have certain key volunteers who were there every day. It’s not like it happens by itself, there’s a lot of work and the staff did an amazing job.

“Whether you have 50 skiers or 500 skiers it’s the same amount of work if you want to deliver to that standard.”

Otway’s transformation into a world-class facility began with the improvements made for the 2015 Canada Winter Games, which resulted in construction of the biathlon range, timing facilities, the Race Maze trail system and a private donation from Rickbeil family later that year to light up those race trails.

Under former club president Kevin Pettersen’s leadership, Prince George won the right to host the 2019 World Para Nordic Championships, which got the ball rolling on snow-making infrastructure. Pettersen and the Caledonia club used government grants and the 2019 World Para Nordic legacy fund to cover the $1.5 million cost of the snow-making system. In the lead up to 2024, the club doubled its well-water capacity, boosted the electrical system, extended the water piping system and bought nine snow-making guns to cover all the competition trails.

“I’m really thankful we expanded the snow-making system over the past few years,” said Pettersen, chair of the organizing committee. “We had three one-week windows for snow making and that made all the difference. If we didn’t have the manmade snow we would have been struggling through the warm weather. It got below-zero most of the days, so it groomed well and the warm temperatures and sunny weather made it amazing for the last few days there.

“They were skiing on good snow, which has been the exception for them this year for them. They’ve only had two other races, six other venues in Europe cancelled.”

Led by Paralympians Mark Arendz, Natalie Wilkie, Mark Arendz, Brittany Hudak and Derek Zaplotinsky, Canada did extremely well in both competitions and finished third in the medal standings each week. Seeing Canadians racing to the podium gave the volunteers and spectators who lined the courses plenty of reasons to cheer.

“Definitely some amazing performances, Collin Cameron just pulled it out of the bag with the gold medal he won there, he didn’t expect that at all,” said Pettersen. “Then to see him and Derek on the podium in the 20-kilometre race was cool.”

Race director George Zipfel of Germany, the Federation International Ski (FIS) representative, lent Pettersen the bib he wore for his two weeks in Prince George and promised he would be back to retrieve it at the next international event Otway will host. He informally asked Pettersen to bring back the same events in 2027 or 2028.

“Hosting a para event, not everybody can do it, so I think once they find a club or a facility that can host it, you’re in good standing,” said Pettersen.

“Domestically, Biathlon Canada is interested in us hosting another trials or national event again. Cross-country would love us to host nationals as well, that’s a huge event with 700 people.

Th economic impact of hosting this year’s events is projected at $7 million. Hotel stays alone at Coast Pacific Hotel brought in close to $750,000.

In addition to the snow-making equipment, a further legacy of hosting three world competitions in five years will become more obvious this summer to Otway visitors when the club begins construction of a roller ski track. Backed by a million-dollar provincial grant, the figure-eight configuration will create a three-kilometre paved surface that will allow Prince George to host summer biathlon races and bring training camps for biathletes and cross-country skiers on roller skis to the city.

“That’s going to be a huge benefit to the local club and the athletes living and training there, especially for biathlon,” said Aalberg, from his home in Sooke. “It could also be used for these Paralympians. They can come there and have training camps because they also have roller ski or sit-skiers that roll.

“Even for the recreational skiers, if you take it slow the first couple laps to manoeuvre the corners. It’s amazing what the club has managed to do up there.”