Fort McMurray Ski Team navigates COVID-19 to finish unpredictable season

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Unlike most activities this past winter, the Fort McMurray Ski Club never paused their season. As the 2020-21 ski season ends, Kathi Brewer-Guthro, president of the Fort McMurray Ski Club, says having the club available throughout the year was a relief for members.

“Just to be able to count on something that we know is good for you, it’s good for the racers, it gets them outside,” she said. “Even at a social distance they’re interacting with friends on the team, they’re smiling, they’re progressing in their sport. I would say it’s been a huge relief.”

Provincial regulations in late 2020 paused most athletics, such as hockey and football. Fitness centres closed, and indoor and outdoor social gatherings were banned.

The ski team has continued practicing, but the season unfolded differently compared to previous years. Groups could not have more than 10 people. Social distancing and mask wearing was practiced constantly. The ski lodge was only used for 15-minute breaks, with no eating or drinking allowed.

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Instead, private vehicles became the new ski lodge and parents waited in vehicles during practice. It’s also where athletes ate and drank, changed and warmed up. The biggest change was no trips to the mountains for training or races.

Brewer-Guthro said competitions gives racers an experience they can’t get at home. The kids also get to act as a team and represent their homes.

“We’ve tried to foster that team environment at the hill where we’ve had to maintain very consistent group sizes,” she said. “You have a lot of close knit friendships in the groups.”

Brewer-Guthro said the season has been challenging, but adapting has been rewarding. Athletes have had more opportunities to train locally, the club hosted more events and coaches had more one-on-one training with kids.

“With this being one of the only sports that continued on, or had access to being an outdoor sport and Vista Ridge being open, there’s just been a lot more consistent interaction between the coaches and their assigned groups,” she said.

The club lost roughly 10 athletes after having between 35 and 40 skiers last season. Brewer-Guthro said this could be for many different reasons, including finances, the uncertainty around sports this season and families prioritizing certain activities.

“The impact on the ski team was obviously reduced revenue, reduced fundraising volunteer energy,” she said. “But at the same time out smaller groups were necessary anyway.”

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Brewer-Guthro said the club anticipated a smaller budget when the season began. Typical fundraising events, like a silent auction pub night, were replaced with different fundraisers, such as a 50/50 draw and a raffle.

Despite the challenges, Brewer-Guthro said she feels the racers are making the best of the situation. The Fort McMurray Ski Team is planning an appreciation and awards event in late April. Like most years, they hope to hold it outdoors.

“We’re looking forward to it,” she said. “It’ll be one of those bittersweet things where we made it through the season, despite sometimes last-minute texts about what does this Alberta Health Services announcement mean or what does Alberta Alpine have to help us along with this.”

lbeamish@postmedia.com

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