Black Jack skier Remi Drolet surprised many at the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Championship at Soldier Hollow, Utah last week with a first place finish in the U20 10-kilometre Classic mass start. However, Black Jack ski coach David Wood is accustomed to watching the 16-year-old skier embrace every challenge he’s faced since he started skiing with the Black Jack team just five years ago.
“It was unbelievable,” said Wood. “I mean he really, really skied well considering he was competing against skiers under 20 and he just turned 16.”
Drolet raced to top spot in a field of over 150 U20-competitors at the U.S. national championship to qualify for the International Ski Federation’s Nordic Junior and U23 World Ski Championship, also in Soldier Hollow, at the end of the month.
“I’m pretty happy with my results,” said Drolet. “I went there as a learning experience to see what the trials would be like, and I was hoping to do relatively well.”
Drolet was coming off a third-place finish in the Junior Men’s 15-km classic mass start at the Haywood NorAm Buff Sprint event at Black Jack last month to earn consideration for the U.S. championship. The Rossland native then finished strong in the 15-km freestyle Jr. Men in his first race at the U.S. nationals, and followed it up with the fastest time of 31 minutes 41.5 seconds in the 10-k classic on Jan. 10.
“After the first race I had a pretty good result, I was the third Canadian,” said Drolet. “So I felt that I could maybe qualify if I did well in the last race. So I tried really hard and won.”
Wood, a former coach of the National Ski Team, has coached the Black Jack Ski Team for the past seven years and says Drolet is the youngest skier to make it to the World Jr. and U23 championship during his tenure.
“I’ve had 17-year-olds, but not anyone as young as Remi. I guess he just has all the right things. His physiology is good, he skis well enough, 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.”
In preparation for the world championships, Drolet will join the Canadian National Junior Ski Team this weekend for a training camp at Soldier Hollow, the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics cross-country ski venue. The Black Jack team went to Sun Valley, Idaho prior to the U.S. Nationals to train at high altitude for the 6,000-foot elevation of Soldier Hollow in the Wasatch Mountains of the U.S. Rockies, and Drolet acknowledges the experience was key to his strong results.
“It’s not a super huge difference walking around, but you do feel it a little bit,” said Drolet. “It’s especially during the race. If you came right from here (Rossland) and went straight to Sun Valley and did a race there, you would probably die. You wouldn’t be able to go as hard as you could usually.”
Drolet has met and overcome every challenge he’s faced in his brief but successful skiing career. In addition to this year’s achievements, Drolet capped off last season by winning two gold and two silver medals at the Haywood National Cross-Country Ski Championship in Whitehorse to win the prestigious Sofie Manarin Award as the year’s top Canadian juvenile skier.
Drolet attributes his winning results to “good training” and “excellent coaching” and will head to Soldier Hollow with the Canadian National Jr. Ski Team this weekend to prepare for his ultimate challenge so far, the 2017 FIS Nordic Jr. and U23 World Ski Championship.
“Every new challenge I try to do as well as I can all of the time, and I guess having good determination is just able to bring me to the top,” said Drolet.
Competition opens on Monday, Jan. 30 with classic sprint. On Feb. 1, men race the 10-km freestyle with women running 5-k. A skiathlon, featuring both classic and freestyle technique, is set for Feb. 3 with relays closing out the Championships on Sunday, Feb. 5.
“I’m really excited,” Drolet added. “I’m hoping to get top-10 in a couple races, and just have a good time.
“I just have to prepare for it like any other race.”
Wood and the rest of the Black Jack Ski Team head to Whistler for the Western Canadian Ski Championship this weekend.