Black Jack cross-country skiers will once again race on the national and world stage this season as members of Canada’s National Ski Team (NST).
Cross Country Canada announced last week that Nelson native Julien Locke will again race with the national team, as will 17-year-old Rossland skier Remi Drolet as part of the junior NST.
Locke raced with the NST U25 ski team the past two years, and competed on the World Cup circuit last season after racing to first place in the sprint at the World Cup qualifier in Canmore in November and again at the Olympic Trials in St. Ferreol les Neiges, Que. in January.
“This past season was my best season yet,” said Locke. “It was my first season racing full time on the World Cup and I made some big improvements so I’m very happy with the gains I made in my performance … It was really an exciting, adventurous winter.”
As a 16-year-old, Drolet raced to a first-place finish in the 10-km Classic in a field of over 150 U20 skiers at the 2017 U.S. Cross-Country Ski Championships in Soldier Hollow, Utah, and competed in the 2017 Junior World Championships at Soldier Hollow, finishing 49th in the the men’s 20-km skiathlon.
“I’ve had 17-year-olds, but not anyone as young as Remi,” said Black Jack ski coach Dave Wood following last year’s U.S. championship. “His physiology is good, he’s coachable, he’s smart, but I think the main thing is he’s very coachable. He listens and he tries his best to work with himself and not against himself.”
Drolet also finished first in the Jr. Men’s 15-k Mass start, and third in the individual sprint at the Haywood NorAm Westerns in Red Deer, then raced to 11th at the Junior Nationals in Mont Ste. Anne, Que. in January.
Wood has been coaching both Drolet and Locke for many years, and the national champion sprinter attributes much of his success to his mentor. Wood, a former NST head coach, will continue to coach both skiers, despite their selections to the NST.
“It’s extremely important to me to have that continuity,” explained Locke. “This is our eighth year working together and we’ve had a fantastic working relationship, and we’ve developed a really solid plan that I believe in.”
Locke raced in three legs of the World Cup last season, and posted a personal best 15th place finish in the sprint in Dresden, Germany and a 13th place finish in the team sprint event with Thunder Bay’s Bob Thompson.
He will join Canada’s only A World Cup skier, Alex Harvey, on the NST, as well as Hardwood’s Len Valjas, Whitehorse’s Dahria Beatty, and CNEPH skier Cendrine Browne as part of the B-World Cup contingent.
What that means as far as racing on the World Cup goes is still uncertain as big changes are coming to Cross Country Canada. The organization is expecting major funding cuts and, as a result, NST members Devon Kershaw, Grame Killick, Knute Johnsgaard and Jess Cockney decided to hang up the skis this year.
“The structure is a bit up in the air at the moment, Cross Country Canada is going through a lot of changes, and there’s not a lot that’s been outlined for what the season’s going to look like,” said Locke. “But we’ve put together a very solid training program for the summer and fall, and we just have to see what happens for the winter.”
Locke proved to be Canada’s top sprinter last season, winning the World Cup and the Olympic Trials as well as finishing top Canadian at the NorAm Cup at the Nakkertok Nordic Ski Centre in Ottawa and in the final World Cup races in Lahti, Fin., Drammen, Nor., Falun, Swe. and Yanan, China to wrap up the season.
Despite his success and a victory in the sprint at the Canadian Olympic Trials, Locke was left off Canada’s Olympic Team that competed in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“The Olympics was the big goal for this past season, and everything was targeted toward making it,” said Locke. “I was racing really well, racing the best I ever have before the Olympics, and I did everything I could to put myself in a position to make the team, so it didn’t happen. It was a challenging thing to accept, but with sports you just have to keep looking forward and moving on.”
Under the tutelage of veteran NST member and World Cup champion Alex Harvey, Locke hopes to make the most of the season skiing alongside the veteran in the team competitions.
“He’s become one of the very best and has a lot of knowledge to pass on, so I really appreciate the opportunity to watch how he prepares and implement that into my training.”
Locke’s main goal is to compete at the World Cup Championship in Austria, and improve his standings on the World Cup circuit.
“This last winter was a good reminder of how small the margins are, fractions of a second. It’s every little choice you make throughout the year that in the end will make the difference of being on the right side of the corner or the wrong side.”
Locke and Drolet joined the Black Jack team for training up at Silver Star in Vernon last week and head to Nickle Plate Nordic Centre for more high-altitude skiing under sunny skies this week. Locke enjoys the time spent with the Black Jack team and is impressed with the emerging talent.
“It’s really great for the program to have Remi on the Junior National Team as well, and Molly Miller was very close to making it too and she has a few more years as a junior,” he added. “I got to spend a little bit of time with the team, but watching from afar and seeing how well they were doing, was really exciting to see.
“We come from a small place in the Kootenays and its neat to see a lot of excitement about racing right now.”