Clair Littlefair may not be racing with the Yellowknife Ski Club's high performance program anymore but the city's loss is Team Telemark's gain.
Littlefair, who's in her second year at Okanagan College in B.C., won herself a bronze medal at the Haywood NorAm Westerns in Red Deer, Alta., on Jan. 20. Her victory came in the junior girls 10 kilometre mass start classic event, where she finished with a time of 34 minutes, 7.1 seconds.
It's been a few months since Littlefair hit the podium – her last time was at a B.C. Cup event in January 2017 – so needless to say, she was excited.
“It's satisfying, for sure,” she said. “I've been working hard on a new training program and it paid off.”
Being that it was a mass start event and every division was at the start line, Littlefair said it was tough to figure out where she was in relation to the rest of her competition. But she managed to stay third among the junior women for the entire race.
“I had no sense of what place I was in,” she said. “I finished the race and found out I was third. All I was doing was watching my per-kilometre time.”
It was actually nice to not know where she was in terms of placing, she added.
“Hitting the podium wasn't my focus,” she said. “I just pushed myself and it all worked out fine.”
Littlefair wasn't the only Yellowknifer at the event. Nicolas Bennett competed in the junior boys 10 kilometre mass start, where he finished in fourth place overall. Ella Kokelj raced in the juvenile girls 5-kilometre event and finished 35th.
Kevin Durkee, one of the coaches for the Yellowknife Ski Club's high performance squad, said Bennett was on his way to a medal had it not been for an unfortunate mishap.
“On the final descent, he fell but managed to pick himself up and finish strong,” he said. “Had he not fallen or had another 15 metres to work with, he would have been right there for at least a bronze medal.”
The trio also raced the day prior in their respective divisions for the free technique sprint events: Littlefair came in seventh, Bennett 11th and Kokelj 22nd. Bennett and Kokelj then joined up with skiers from Yukon to make unofficial Northern teams for the relays. Bennett's team came in third while Kokelj's outfit managed a ninth place finish.
Overall, Durkee said he was pleased with how everything turned out for the trio.
“Clair has definitely grown over the past few months with Team Telemark,” he said.
“Her technical ability and confidence has grown and it will only get better. For Nicolas and Ella, they're at the point where they were happy with their performances but they want more.
“I'm proud as a coach that they're striving to improve and that's a good indication of being both good athletes and good people.”
Because there's no cross-country team at Littlefair's school, she's racing with Team Telemark, which is based out of Kelowna, B.C. Her equipment is with the team but she's still licensed to race out of the NWT.
“Most of the racers at the school are with Team Telemark and there's an agreement between the team and the school that allows us to miss classes as long as there's proof from the coach that we're competing,” she said.
Even though she doesn't race in Yellowknife anymore, Littlefair still has the goal of making the Canada Winter Games team for 2019. It would be her second appearance at the Games should she manage to make the final cut.
“I should be competitive this time,” she said. “My first time (in 2015) was about getting the experience, so the second time should be more competitive for me.”