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New UNBC ski team will help recruit student athletes, says former varsity club coach

Cross-country skiers/biathletes to represent UNBC next season on BC Cup circuits, Western Canadian and national championships
UNBC student Ben Gadd, a former gold medalist at the cross-country ski nationals, is one of the athletes who will be part of UNBC nordic skiing varsity club next season.

The relaunch of UNBC’s varsity cross-country ski/biathlon club is a positive step that will benefit the local nordic racing community, says former club coach Tuppy Hoehn.

Hoehn, a 1998 Olympic biathlete who coached the Timberwolves ski team for two seasons from 2003-05, knows the reformed club will attract UNBC students who will wear the green and gold when they race in the university/college division next season on the BC Cup biathlon and cross-country racing circuits.

“There’s definitely lots of interest - anecdotally we have lots, on paper we don’t really know, but I think there are probably more skiers who are students at UNBC than we probably realize,” said Hoehn.

“I’ve certainly had conversations with athletes and parents at races this winter who are those up-and-coming university students  who are Grade 11 or 12 and are looking at their options for next year.”

The UNBC campus is only a 20-minute drive away from the ski trails at Otway Nordic Centre and Hoehn says that close proximity to world-class facilities will prove attractive to student athletes looking to continue their racing careers. Prince George, with its winter climate, has that advantage over just about every other university city in Canada.

“UNBC is still one of the easiest pace to ski and go to school,” said Hoehn. “Every time I travel to another club for races I realize  how lucky we are because our trails are so close and so accessible. Students can easily fit training into heir day without having to budget hours of driving into their day.”

UNBC skiers will receive training plans as well as coaching/waxing services and will compete in races sporting-wolves uniforms. The athletes will be responsible for paying for their own trails fees and racing memberships and travel expenses during races.

“It’s been talked about for a while now, we’ve always had great skiers at UNBC and it’s gotten to the point where there’s a larger number of them and there’s some really good connections with the club and they have a really good direction that it seemed to be the right time to revisit it,” said UNBC athletics director Loralyn Murdoch, who says the varsity club will help her university recruit students.

Although there are no U SPORTS cross-country skiing or biathlon competitions, UNBC athletes will compete under the International University Sports Federation rules and will be eligible for the FISU Winter World University Games, held every two years.

“The Caledonia Nordic Ski Club has done an outstanding job of building up all the national competitions and with their ability to raise funds in this city they’ve really shown that they’re series about nordic skiing and biathlon,” said Murdoch. “So it’s a great tie-in with the academic side of it at UNBC and being so close to these national-ranked coaches and the ability to race representing UNBC.”

The UNBC ski club was initially formed by UNBC students Chris Paulson and Sean Rowell in the late 1990s. Hoehn took it up a notch when she convinced the UNBC athletics department to sanction it.

The club represented UNBC at Western Canadian and national championships and that college-university category still exists.

“It was started as a student-led club, just athletes who wanted to ski and train together, and then it came under the umbrella of the athletics department when I was coaching it,” said Hoehn.

Hoehn gave up her UNBC team coaching duties after two years when she and her husband Shane opened Stride and Glide Sports. The team continued for several years but suffered organizational problems that led to its demise.

“At that point, UNBC was looking at adding soccer to its athletic department so the funding also wasn’t available to support it any more,” said Hoehn.

Hoehn, competed the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan in biathlon under her maiden name Collard, is now the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club cross-country ski coach.

“It’s pretty cool, I see lots of athletes who were on my (UNBC) team at that point who are now parents at BC Cups,” said Hoehn.

“As a club we’re excited about this because it will add a lot of depth to our programming and it will give our older athletes someone to train with. It will take time to build but it’s kind of that next step for our club and Prince George as far as development of Nordic sports.”