What makes a great event for kids? This is a question we have been tackling for the past number of years in Bragg Creek, AB. Our ski club, XC Bragg Creek, founded in 2009, sits directly halfway between two of the largest and most successful ski clubs in Canada - Canmore Nordic and Foothills Nordic. 2016 was our fifth year of hosting the Alberta Youth Cross Country Ski Championships - and we have this feeling that it just keeps getting better and better.
There are a number of things that make this a great event for children.
Firstly, there are no events for older teens, juniors, seniors, or masters athletes. The whole focus is on 10-14 year olds.
Secondly we've built in a few key features that kids really like. We hand medals to 10th place in each single year category. That adds up to 160 medals for individual race events that are handed out over the weekend. The magic of this is that more kids are battling for medal positions. So why not hand one out to everyone? The fact that you have to finish in the top 10 of your group means something to kids. Its earned recognition, and kids know that. Add to that the Alberta Youth Champs are the only provincial event that does this and you've got something good going on.
Thirdly, we throw in more than one event per day. We run a relay on the Saturday in addition to an individual race. Kids dig this. Teams are encouraged to wear costumes. Kids love this as well. Plus we have official, unofficial, and coach's categories for the relay. Kids love seeing their coaches participating in a race.
Fourthly, we have a banquet on the Saturday night with the biggest award show in the world. Medal presentations, Spirit awards, draw prizes, and a dance for kids only. Coaches and chaperones are invited to attend a wine and cheese social event to encourage club coaches from across the province and beyond to get to know each other socially. We also have a guest athlete speaker. Over the years we have had the likes of Olympic Silver medalist cyclist and world jr ski championships medalist Tara Whitten to share their story of how they went from being a kid growing up in Alberta to one of the best in their sport in the country and beyond. This year we had @matt_strum share his story. Matt is a former provincial team skier and current national jr team and national jr champion biathlete share his story of growing up in Bragg Creek, how he dealt with numerous years of finishing near the back of the pack as a late developing athlete to coming into his own.
Fifthly, we all stay at a summer camp facility where kids stay in bunkrooms with their team mates and coaches, chaperones, and eat meals in the same dining hall with all of the other kids from around the province. This provides a unique chance to build friendships with kids from other places and enjoy a camp experience. This idea came from the Noram Midget Champs in Joliette, QC.
Six, we use a ski venue that isn't the regular race venue for kids. West Bragg Trails are at 1400m and were designed as potential race trails for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
Seven, the event has grown into the largest provincial event for this age group in Alberta. Plus its the provincial championships event for 10-14 year olds. We have been lucky to attract clubs from all over Alberta as well as Saskatchewan, NWT, BC, and Ontario to the event. This has built some anticipation for young skiers who can't wait to be old enough to attend.
Eight, AYC is a big deal for @xcbraggcreek ski club. This is our club's big event. It has grown the club. This is a town where hardly any parents had ever seen a ski race before and now host this big and important event. Events build clubs, and XC Bragg Creek Ski Club is a testament to how this can happen.
If you're wondering how to build momentum in your small town ski club, I'd say, GO BIG! host a big event, do it every year. It has been working for us.
Every year we get feedback from coaches, parents, and kids about Alberta Youth Cross Country Ski Championships. Have yourself a great end to winter!
"Hi Roy: I wanted to follow up to the great weekend down in Bragg Creek –once again it was fantastic! Our kids love the course, the accommodations at Kamp Kiwanis and staying with the other athletes, the awards etc. etc.. 2 years we have attended and it is our favourite event of the year. It was especially compelling for my daughter and she now says that her primary focus will be Nordic skiing.
Thanks to the Bragg Creek team for all of your hard work.
Stephen Spencer, Coach, St Albert Nordic Ski Club"