Ski Orienteering is an emerging sport in Canada. It combines the speed of skiing with a mental component of map reading on the move and making split-second decisions, and it is good fun for all ages.
The Canadian Ski-Orienteering Team ended off a successful 2023 race season, with athletes training and competing across Canada, the USA, and internationally. The team, coached by previous ski-O champion Mark Tarnopolsky, comprised 5 athletes: Robert Graham, Vegard Jarvis Westergård, Milla Tarnopolsky, Emma Waddington and Pia Blake.
In ski-orienteering, athletes use a map holder device, which secures a map to a board at the chest – the board rotates so that athletes can orient their maps easily while skiing. The maps used in ski-O are detailed topographic maps which indicate whether the trails are wide groomed skate trails, narrow classic trails, or snowshoe/fat biking trails. Athletes race on skate skis and may use any type of trail they wish, often requiring strong double pole skills to navigate narrow snowshoe trails on skis or for cutting off-trail through the forest to create a shortcut. Often the athletes will use special larger pole baskets that prevent “post-holing” in deep snow off-trail. They must navigate from point to point as specified on the map, with the fastest person to visit all points in the correct order winning.
In North America, two weekends comprised the race season - the first in Gatineau and the second at Lake Placid in New York State. For many, Gatineau was the first ski-o competition in many years and an opportunity to practice the technical skills of navigating on twisty narrow trails on the 6.1km middle distance Saturday and the route choice and climb of the 20km long Sunday, with an added challenge of fresh snow!
The majority of the team’s major race this season was the Empire State Winter Games/US Ski-O National Championships, with cold temperatures in store. The team sat out the sprint on Friday when the windchill was nearing -35C. By Saturday, the temps reached a balmy -19C, warm enough to race safely! Coach Mark (with wax purchased from Andy Shields of www.canadawintersports.ca) worked some magic to give us some fast skis despite the cold, slow snow. This middle-distance race began as a mass start with 3 loops in random order. After each loop, athletes received a new map. For example, Pia and Milla’s first loop began with a long, slow climb uphill, whereas Emma completed the climb on her 3rd loop. The area, Dewey Mountain, had narrow skate trails and lots of snowshoe/walking trails, making people-dodging skills on skis a necessity when travelling on 2-way trails. Emma, Milla and Pia swept the podium in the women’s elite category. Robbie, unfortunately, missed a checkpoint but would have put up a competitive time. Coach Mark pretended to be young again and came middle of the pack in the Men’s elite race ☺
The mass start at the middle distance (ESWG Photography and Media)
Sunday brought the long-distance race at the Paul Smith VIC, with balmy weather and again fast skis courtesy of some fancy slurries concocted by Coach Mark using Rode liquids and Star powders (all non-fluoro as per the rules for ski orienteering). Here, route choice played a significant role, and it was especially important to pay attention to hills when deciding if a straighter, narrow track was worth it compared to a longer ski on wider trails. Emma, Milla and Pia once again swept the podium while Robbie just missed the podium. Coach Mark needs to consider racing masters (> 60 y) instead of Men’s elite and ended up middle of the pack again.
Pia, Emma, and Milla with their long-distance medals
Over in Europe, Vegard competed in Round 3 of the Ski Orienteering World Cup in Beitostølen, Norway. The races consisted of a middle, sprint, and pursuit, with tough competition across the board. He had his best result in the middle, finishing in 53rd.
Vegard competing in the middle distance at the World Cup (Terje W Pettersen)
Ski Orienteering is an emerging sport in Canada, but we would encourage people interested to try it! It combines the speed of skiing with a mental component of map reading on the move and making split-second decisions, and it is good fun for all ages.
Left: Milla at World Cup. Below: Map - NA Series Ski-O at Camp Fortune