Welcome to a new feature on United Way Yukon’s website called Community Q&A. Here we check in with various groups and individuals who are working to help Yukoners.
Today we check in with Pavlina Sudrich who alongside Knute Johnsgaard has been leading the Old Crow Ski program.
The program is all about “celebrating being on the land, celebrating your body and having fun,” she says.
We asked Pavlina about her program which is made possible in part through Yukoners’ contributions to the United Way.
Here is that conversation:
How long have you been skiing?
My dad and mum were both ski coaches with the Territorial Experimental ski-Training program (TEST program) run by the late Father Jean Mouchet. I probably started before kindergarten. I grew up knowing the trails in Whitehorse.
When did you start visiting Old Crow?
Knute Johnsgaard and I first started travelling to Old Crow to ski with the community in 2014/2015.
At Father Mouchet’s funeral in 2013 a number of community members from Old Crow expressed a desire to see the ski program reinvigorated.
It was out of that request — and with help from Air North — that we started the Father Mouchet Memorial Loppet.
With COVID-19 we’ve adapted our program, moving away from the focus on one big event to instead spending time in the community supporting the ski program over a longer period of time.
There is a long history of skiing in Old Crow. I want to emphasize we didn’t start it!
My partner in this, Knute Johnsgaard, and I are just another link in this long chain.
The ski program in Old Crow dates back to the 1950s. It was started by Father Mouchet and carried on by people like Glenna Frost, Phillipe Mouchet and many others.
Can you tell me about this year’s program? How long did you spend in the community?
Last year we spent 2 weeks in the community living in a wall tent on Crow mountain and skiing each day with the youth as part of their on-the-land culture camp. This year we were there for 8 days. As part of the program we work with Chief Zzeh Gittlit School and the Vuntut Gwitchin Government’s Recreation Department to inspire the community to start skiing in the weeks leading up to our arrival.
We do an intensive program but it’s sustained in the community before and after we are there.
Who do you take skiing?
It’s an open house. We ski with all the kids in the community, during school time and after-school as well. We pretty much ski with the kids from morning until sunset and in April in Old Crow that’s a long day!
How young do the skiers begin?
This year we skied with kindergarteners to high schoolers! As soon as their feet are big enough for the ski boots they can start — and some of the boots are pretty small.
What do the tails look like in Old Crow?
The community has beautiful trails. They’re a legacy from the 1950s ski program. There’s the Martha Benjamin 8k, there’s the Glenna Frost 2k, the trails and place names are named after prominent skiers in the community. The trails wind through trees, go up Crow Mountain and cross some small lakes.
How do you provide equipment?
We are again lucky that the history is there. Father Mouchet and Glenna Frost worked to revive the TEST program in the 2000s, and equipped the ski chalet with equipment that is in great working condition even today. We continue to work with the Vuntut Gwitchin Government and pursue different grants and donations to keep that inventory up to date. There are enough skis for everyone in the community.
One goal of the TEST program was to develop talent for competition. Is that part of your program?
Knute Johnsgaard knows competition. He competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics as a cross country skier. However the goal of this program is fun and positivity. It’s about celebrating being on the land, celebrating your body and having fun.
If that means competition for some athletes we encourage them to pursue that. But it’s not our priority.
What is it about skiing that is such a positive thing for youth?
There is a rich history of cross country skiing in the community of Old Crow. Most adult members of the community grew up skiing. It feels really special to be able to connect kids with that history, with the storiesof their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Itleads to shared experience andstories between generations. It’s a really accessible sport as well for the community. They have beautiful trails, they have a ski lodge, they have equipment.
Skiing is a low-barrier sport once you have that initial capital. It’s a beautiful way to cross your traditional territory and build a connection to the land.