Canmore Camp Again Brings Snow, Camaraderie And A Special Thanksgiving Dinner

by Alex Abrams

Oksana Masters, Dani Aravich and Kendall Gretsch pose for a photo in Canmore (Photo by Gary Colliander)

Some of the top American Para Nordic skiers got together and enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal that featured both traditional dishes and a bit of international flair. 


For starters, the Thanksgiving meal was held in Canmore, Alberta, where dozens of U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing coaches and athletes had gathered to participate in a training camp two months before the start of the world cup season. 


And while their Thanksgiving included turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, 17-time Paralympic medalist Oksana Masters brought a dish popular in Ukraine, where she was born and raised until she moved to the U.S. after being adopted. She made cabbage rolls. 


U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing members added even more of an international feel by inviting four members of Great Britain’s Para Nordic team to celebrate the holiday with them. 


“If someone’s going to be on the road for a few weeks, you really want a sense of balance,” said Nick Michaud, who coaches the standing skiers on the U.S. national team. “And I think it’s huge to be laughing and eating good food and playing games with people you want to spend time with.” 


It has become an annual tradition for members of the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing national and development teams to spend Thanksgiving in Canmore while training for the upcoming season. The training camp helps the athletes gain a sense of camaraderie, learn from one another and get in some much-needed skiing. 


Michaud said Canmore is the only place in North America where it’s guaranteed there’ll be snow on the ground on Thanksgiving. As a result, 45 athletes, coaches and staff members with U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing took part in the training camp that ran mostly from Nov. 13-27. 


Para Nordic skiers of all levels trained alongside each other every morning in Canmore. While there, the Americans also competed against the British skiers and members of the Canadian team in several sanctioned cross-country skiing races. 


“For everybody, it’s a really good opportunity to connect, share resources and share ideas. The skiing is always awesome,” Michaud said. “Canmore is also gorgeous, and everyone just has a good time. There’s a lot of good food. There’s plenty of stuff to do, so we can have training camp professionalism with a little bit more lifestyle piece, which is really nice for most people.” 


Masters, the most decorated U.S. Winter Paralympian of all time, was back on snow and skiing again after missing last season with a severe hand injury. She was joined by several Paralympians, including fiancé Aaron Pike and gold medalists Dan Cnossen and Josh Sweeney. 


In addition, a group of athletes new to Para Nordic skiing traveled to Canmore and got to spend time working on their technique and learning from U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing coaches. They also received tips from the more experienced Paralympians. 


“For Pike and Oksana and the older, high-performing athletes, it’s awesome to know that there’s a (Para Nordic skiing) community and people coming up that are getting excited to knock on their door soon,” Michaud said. “I think that that feels really good because sometimes we just travel around Europe as a little crew, and it’s really nice to know there are so many other Americans that are training and they’re getting excited and are getting motivated by what they’re doing. 


“For the newer skiers, it’s nice to see where you could go. It is nice to have an image of like, ‘Oh my gosh, if I do all this work, maybe potentially one day there’s a chance I could be that good (as Pike and Masters).’” 


U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing had a group of coaches on hand in Canmore to work with the dozens of athletes at the training camp. 


While Michaud spent time with standing skiers, Gary Colliander, associate director of high performance for U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing, coached the sit skiers on the U.S. national and development teams. 


Eileen Carey, director of U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing, helped teach athletes more about classic cross-country skiing techniques. Meanwhile, BethAnn Chamberlain, a development coach with U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing, worked with a group of newcomers to the sport. 


Toward the end of the training camp, around a dozen coaches and athletes sat down to enjoy their Thanksgiving in Canmore. It was a much smaller group than the approximately 40-50 coaches and athletes who ate lots of Indian food at a team dinner at the start of the training camp. 


“There’s just a big swing of momentum that comes from (all of us) being in the same place,” Michaud said. 


Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.