Another leg of a long but fulfilling journey began this season for Black Jack skier Julien Locke, who is now a full-fledged member of Canada’s U25 National Ski Team.
The 23-year-old Nelson native joined the NST at the Alberta World Cup Academy in Canmore after being selected for the senior development team by Cross Country Canada in May.
“I’ve been based in Canmore all year now, living there and training with the national team group,” said Locke, who skied with the Black Jack Ski Club in Rossland for about 10 years. “It’s been quite a change, but it’s been a good change.”
Canada’s NST, including the World Cup senior national team, attended a training camp in Park City, Utah in October. Locke says the transition to the new team has gone well, and the intensity of the training regimen in Park City was reminiscent of Black Jack ski coach David Wood’s program, likely because Wood coached the national team from 1998 to 2010.
“The training is very similar,” said Locke. “The main thing I noticed was that it was exactly the same as we do at Black Jack. They (Black Jack) run such a high-level program, you may not realize that it is as good as it gets, but it is.”
This past weekend Black Jack hosted a Haywood NorAm event where Locke raced to a silver medal in the sprint, and young skiers like Remi and Jasmine Drolet had podium finishes despite racing against older skiers.
Locke, who raced against 16-year-old Remi for the first time in the 15-km pursuit, was amazed by the young skier’s compete level.
“Remi continues to impress us,” said Locke. “He’s just becoming so strong. I’ve never raced with him before, and I raced with him on Sunday and I was just blown away by how hard he races. He puts the hammer down from the start, and every crest and every hill goes full blast. He pushes on the flats, and pushes with the climbs, and just goes 100 per cent the whole way.”
Remi raced in Junior Men against athletes up to 19 years of age, and won bronze in the 15-km pursuit, came fourth in the sprint and sixth in in 15-km skate. He will also compete in the Jr. Mens category at the U.S. National championship and World Jr. / U23 qualifier at Soldier Hollow in Park City in two weeks.
“It’s unbelievable. There is no one at his age who can ski at that level – he’s in his own league,” added Locke.
One unfortunate absence was that of David Palmer who was out due to illness, and was unable to compete in his hometown race. However, Wood expected a strong field and good performances from Locke, as well as Remi and Jasmine Drolet, who claimed silver in the 6.6 km classic.
“Palmer was good he just got sick,” said Wood. “Julien is part of the National team program, so he’s here he is just not under our umbrella anymore. Remi has done very well so far this year, he’s won everything and he’s moved up a category … His younger sister Jasmine is skiing this year with us, so it’s not a super big program, but we’re good.”
Locke’s performance was one of his best this early in the season, finishing just behind U.S. Olympian Andy Newell, and bodes well for the impending World Cup qualifier in Soldier Hollow.
“It was my first sprint since the start of November when we had our World Cup trials, and I was happy how that went,” said Locke. “Andy Newell, he’s been one of the best in the world before so to have him there for competition was really good, and I was happy with how I skied.”
With a good performance at the U.S. Nationals, Locke will qualify for the the pre-Olympic World Cup trials in Pyeong-Chang, Korea Feb. 3-5, but his main goal is the 2017 World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland Feb. 21-Mar. 5.
“The top priority is to go to the World Championship at the end of February. The main selection for both of those is in Soldier Hollow in two weeks, so we’re going down to Sun Valley (Idaho) next Wednesday for a week of altitude preparation, and then go down to Soldier Hollow which is where the 2002 Olympics were held.”
At just under 6,000 feet, the nordic track at Soldier Hollow is one of the highest in North America and the Black Jack team and NST will travel to another high-altitude venue in Idaho 10-days early to acclimate themselves before competition.
The rest of the season depends on results at Soldier Hollow with potential World Cup races in Sweden and Estonia on the agenda.
“I’m feeling like everything is going perfectly for the trials,” said Locke. “I’ve never had a podium finish in December before as a senior in the NorAms so I’m happy I started off on a decent note.”
The Black Jack and NST will continue to train over Christmas, and for Locke, he couldn’t be more satisfied about his physical condition and technical readiness for one of the most crucial races of the season.
“Everything’s going perfectly to plan.”