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Two time Olympic medalist Beckie Scott called out to a group of panting Grade 5 students—dressed in various stages of preparedness from jeans and a hoodie to full snow suits.
“Pizza! French Fries! Pizza! French Fries!” shouted Scott.
The students tightened their muscles and twisted their skis all while trying not to fall over. The crisp mountain air and slopes of the Canmore Nordic Centre were a far cry from the usual classroom setting in Morley and Ekshaw that the kids were used to. On occasion a towering professional would pass the group of fumbling kids—Kazakhstan, Italy, USA on their racing bibs—with a nod of encouragement.
Ski Fit North Alberta (SFNA) is an activity-based outreach program aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles and building strong communities through cross country skiing. Scott and company travel across Alberta to aboriginal communities, equipment in hand, to teach students not only how to cross country ski but also about the benefits of physical activity, nutrition, and coming together as a community. This day, however, the students were treated to a field trip at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
The program has been running for the past seven years and Scott couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Each ski day they see a spike in class attendance. Students and teachers surveyed after a ski day rate their happiness and confidence levels as off the charts. Some students have even gone on to compete in the Alberta Winter Games thanks to the push from SFNA.
“We often hear from teachers about groups of kids or one or two kids that have real behavioural issues or are coded for example. We never know who those kids are because when they’re with us and they’re out on their skis we see almost universally happy, joyful kids,” says Scott. “Really, that brings it home to me about the power and the impact of this program. We hear from teachers on occasion who say things like: we haven’t seen that kid happy in months. That actually makes me kind of emotional because I’m like, wow. We really are bringing something special here. It’s really important.”
Part of the success of SFNA is that the ski days are not just one-offs. Scott and team revisit schools several times throughout the school year to reinforce their message of well-being. They also help communities set up their own cross country ski programs.
“We never want it to be a one-off opportunity. We always want to make sure that when we make a connection, it’s sustained. We want our kids ultimately to come out of this program better informed about their health and wellness and with more resilient skills. We like to foster well-being in our aboriginal kids. We know the challenges they’re up against. We’re trying to help them confront that and tackle that as well,” says Scott.
That being said, ski equipment costs money. As with travel to some of the province’s more remote communities. That’s where ATB got involved—offering up dollars but also toques, water bottles and volunteer hours and for that, Scott is grateful.
“Obviously we wouldn’t have a program like this if it wasn’t for our corporate sponsors. We are eternally grateful to have the resources and the funds to be able to expand, to reach our kids, to get to the places where no one is going and to make a difference and to make an impact,” says Scott.
To learn more about the Ski Fit North program, visit their website. www.skifitnorthalberta.com
Listen to Beckie Scott talk about the impact of Ski Fit North North in her own words below.