Ok, so maybe Charlo is not technically a part of the real Acadian region of New Brunswick, but it is close enough for me. Charlo is one of those places that you would never really go to unless you had to. With that said most skiers or biathletes know of Charlo or have raced there at some level. It has a charm that sticks with you. The volunteers are tremendously friendly and interesting, switching between French and East Coast English (which could be a language on its own) mid-sentence. They are all extremely knowledgeable about Cross Country skiing and Biathlon. There are other charms, well… not exactly charms. The dreaded ‘Jaws’ downhill has always been a signature of the Charlo course, it may have been tamed over the years but it still is capable of striking fear into the hearts of many. Another aspect that you always remember is the cold. Charlo is notorious for being cold.
Then this past week happened. After traveling for just over four hours from the Island to Charlo on Thursday morning, I was set to go skiing at the Les Aventuriers Ski Club, but was I ever in for a shock. I knew that the snow conditions were rough at Charlo, which was confirmed by the lack of snow on the side of the highway on the way up. I’m going to be polite and say they had snow, but by no means was it much. I will commend the groomers at Les Aventuriers, who did an amazing job for what they had. Skiing that afternoon was bad enough, there was no way I would race on these trails in that condition. With some snow forecasted for the Friday afternoon and night, I still had some hope for better conditions.
Friday was the typical cold and clear Charlo weather. Overnight the snow began and it really didn’t stop for the rest of the weekend. The biggest shock was the temperature increased, a lot. With a low of -14 Friday morning to a high of -1 for the start of Saturday’s Sprint race. This was ground breaking, a warmish race in Charlo! The falling snow was dry, so it wouldn’t pack down and firm up to create a solid race course and with the sheer volume of fresh snow we were in for a soft and tough race. The best thing was that this new snow covered everything and at least you now wouldn’t see what scratched your skis. To be serious the trails were now soft but in very good shape compared to what they were the day before.
As mentioned above Saturday was a Sprint race. I was in my normal Junior Men’s 10km race. After the troubled shooting in Whistler I was looking for some solid shooting. Oh, did I ever get that. Shooting clean, ten for ten, zero misses. That just gave me a huge confidence boost. I had the strongest skier starting 30 seconds behind me and he actually passed me on the first lap. I lost track of him after the prone shooting, but I thought he was ahead of me and I was fighting for second. Cleaned the standing bout and went for it. I wanted to have the closest gap to the winner as I could manage. As I came into the finish, the announcer said that I was the first Junior Man to finish, making me the winner. I couldn’t believe it. I was having the time of my life; it felt great to earn that victory.
Sunday was the Pursuit race, with winning the first day I would be the first to start. During the Sprint I was in this state of mind that was a combination of zoned out and super focused. That was how I shot so well, but I could not copy that for the Pursuit. I opened with missing 2 and just kept adding to the total. Another miss in the second bout, two others in the third. With the less than stellar shooting, I had somehow taken back the lead of the race for the early part of the fourth loop.
This is the first time I can say this, but I had my brother, Menno (who moved up to the Junior Men’s category that day, to race at the distance he will be for the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Nova Scotia) literally breathing down my neck. We skied together for the majority of the loop. It prides me and hurts me to say, that he passed me as I was struggling a little over the flats. This set up for one of the most exciting final standing bouts I have ever been in. Menno, myself and the New Brunswick athlete in third (mere seconds behind us) came into the range and were shooting together. I wish I could now say that I was right in there and it came down to the final 2.5km, but that wasn’t what happened. My left arm hadn’t locked as I came into the range and couldn’t use my proper position. Once it hadn’t locked, I knew it was over. To hit the two targets I did and the two other near-hits, it was great shooting considering the circumstances. I would end up third.
This trip back to the Island for the holidays seemed to have one theme, first the bad and then the good. It all started with my arrival to a very green and windy, wet Charlotettown. I don’t think they had even seen a snowflake yet. It was back to ‘dry’ land training. The first day was a 2 hour run in knee deep, bright red mud. My tour guide, Menno and I ran at the Brookvale Nordic Centre and witnessed a massive number of downed trees. After a couple more days of running, on the Confederation Trail and along Brackley Beach I wanted to get back on snow. Then… a good old fashioned East Coast snow storm. The next three days it continued to snow and the piles started to add up. On December 28, I skied for the first time on the Island. There were a few areas of reddish snow, but it was not bad. The week went on with more snow getting added until there are now almost ‘wonderlandish’ conditions. It has been a great time back for an extended holiday stay, though I know it’s time to continue my travels, and test my abilities against the best in the World. The World Cup opening weekend is only 5 days away. Taking the extra confidence I gained racing in Charlo will be a great boost. Let the snowy fun and games begin!