Feb. 06, 2013 - Issue #903: Moment by moment
Ski mountaineers compete for Canada in World Championships
The born and raised Jasperite, who now resides in Valemount, BC, will be representing Canada in Pelvoux, France from February 9 – 15, along with his teammates Andrew McNab and Melanie Bernier.
The trio are all on the Canadian National Team, and have been living in France and competing across Europe since January 8.
There are five race categories at the International Championships: vertical, teams, sprint, individual and relay.
Thoni says most racers will pick three of the five races to compete in. But, he plans on doing four—all but the sprint. In the team race, Thoni will be competing with Revelstoke's McNab.
Ski mountaineering is a sport that combines backcountry skiing with mountaineering. The Alpine Club of Canada describes it as "racing over steep alpine terrain using ski touring gear, gaining and losing elevation (up to 3000 metres worth) past a series of checkpoints set along ridges and peaks.
"Some parts of the course require skinning up snow slopes, some involve scrambling with the skis on packs, and some slopes reward polished downhill technique. Some technical courses may also require boot packing or traversing fixed lines."
A race typically takes between two and three hours, and the winner is the athlete who crosses the finish line first.
The sport is just beginning to pick up steam in North America—with the first North American Championships taking place in 2012—whereas in Europe the sport is already huge.
"There's really a culture in Europe for it," says Thoni. "So, you pretty much have to come to Europe to experience it. It's kind of like hockey in Canada."
Because ski mountaineering—also known as skimo—is so popular, and there's so much money in it for European athletes, the level of competition is much higher there than in Canada and the United States.
So, although Thoni came out on top at the North American Championships in the sprint and individual races last year, he's not expecting a first place finish in Pelvoux. Rather, he's hoping to break the top 10.
"When you come over here," he says of Europe, "all the racers, their job is to train all year, and there's big money in it for them, so you really gotta focus to place top 10 or top 20."
Because ski mountaineering isn't yet an Olympic sport, there's no government funding available to the Canadian National Team. So, unlike European athletes, the Canadian team has to seek out sponsorship on its own, and in many cases, on top of sponsorship from organizations like the Alpine Club of Canada, the athletes have to pay out of their own pockets to spend the season—January through April—competing in Europe.
To afford it, Thoni spends the spring and summer either planting or falling trees in the Robson Valley.
"It's funny," he says, "you talk to the people that are here [in Europe] and they're like 'Oh! You work? You do pretty good for a person who has to work and pay their own way.'"
But, the good thing about tree planting for three months of the year, says Thoni, is that it doubles as training because it requires endurance and strength—two things that are integral to ski mountaineering.
"With ski mountaineering, you're using your arms and your legs, but you're also going uphill so you're recruiting your whole body and all the muscles. You're demanding a lot.
"If you look at some of the finishes of the vertical [race], some of the top guys, as soon as they cross the finish line, they'll just fall over onto each other. They're totally and completely destroyed," says Thoni, noting that he really enjoys watching and competing with those athletes.
"It's really fun to just see if you can compete at the level that you need to to race against those guys," he says. "Every year the levels are getting higher and higher [in North America], closer to the European levels. Hopefully in a few years it will all be the same. It will be fun to see."
To follow along with Thoni's races and adventures in Europe this winter, check out his blog, theoutsideout.blogspot.ca or read McNab's updates on getradrevelstoke.com.
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