Black Jack clobbers competition at Western Canadian Championships
The Blackjack Junior Racers had another big showing this past weekend at the Western Canadian Championships as they dominated the event taking home by far the most medals of any club involved. That continued success of the racing program along with record numbers at the club in general are solidifying Rossland’s reputation as one of the top Nordic skiing centres in the province if not the country.
With a long history of downhill skiing and downhill racers coming out of the Golden City over the years, Blackjack is fast making a bid to add a strong Nordic legacy to our skiing traditions.
Hosted by the Telemark Club in West Kelowna, 450 skiers from Manitoba west competed in the event. Of the 45 medals up for grabs in the BC division, Blackjack’s racers took home 15.
While Blackjack skiers winning events is nothing new, the depth of the team has grown dramatically over the past several years, resulting in an even more friendly, competitive environment in which racers are pushing each other to new heights.
On Day One Rebecca Reid and Julien Locke each skied to gold medal finishes in the Junior Men and Junior Women free technique individual sprints.
Despite the heavy snow slowing down the track on Saturday, Locke was back on top of the podium again in the Junior Men’s interval start prologue classic technique race.
Capping off his weekend hat-trick, Locke once again took home gold on Sunday in the Junior Men’s pursuit/mass start skating technique races. Rossland’s Olympian George Grey took gold in the Senior Men’s division.
The team is now gearing up for the BC Championships next week as a big race tune up for the Canadian Nationals in Canmore March 12th to the 20th.
With this year being one of the most successful in the history of the club, coach Dave Wood reflected on some of the reasons why nordic skiing and racing has been gaining in popularity at such a fast rate in Rossland in recent years.
“The main thing is that the club is doing a really good job. It provides a very good skiing experience for people and it’s not expensive. It’s a great sport for people from 5 years old to 155. It’s close to town. The trail conditions this year with the new groomer have been excellent every day. People can go out to ski and know they are going to have an enjoyable experience.”
While the racing team is having a banner year, so too is the club. This year Black Jack signed up the most members they’ve ever had, and done so by a large margin. Prior to this season the most members the club has had was back in the ’94-’95 season. In just the past three years alone, Blackjack’s membership has grown roughly 40% from 503 members to 713.
“There’re lots of reasons why we think our numbers are up,” explained Wannes Luppens, the club’s president. “Everything from early snow, having a Nordic store right downtown, the success of the kids’ racing program, being able to hold our prices steady for five years running and good membership drives have developed a kind of critical mass that has seen things really take off.
In addition to the new groomer being brought online that has been able to maintain excellent and predictable conditions day in and day out, Luppens also cites the simple fact that the club is close to town as a major driver of their success. “The proximity to town is a really big one. Most places in BC or anywhere for that matter are at low elevations so to go skiing you probably have to drive 30- 40 minutes or more. With that drive you probably won’t ski on weekdays too much and if you’re not skiing on weekdays you’re probably not buying season passes.”
Ultimately, the club would love to be able to have a groomed trail connection linking the city to the club completely, but in the meantime they are enjoying the boom that continues to spawn dominant racers. If things continue to trend as they are now we could very well soon see new Blackjack-bred Olympians joining their alumnus Rhonda Delong who competed in the ’92 Albertville Olympics–and of course home town favorite George Grey–at the top levels of the world Nordic racing scene.