The Arctic Winter Games arrive in Whitehorse in the near future, and among the many sports on view there is (of course), cross country skiing, one of the oldest sports around and a perennial favourite in the North.

The games have traditionally been a launching ground for many great skiers in Canada, often the first major competition they experience in their careers.

But what goes on behind the scenes at a big race? While it can look complex, there is no magic involved, just a cadre of dedicated volunteers making sure that a series of relatively simple tasks are seamlessly coordinated and executed.

Well before the races kick off, there is a core team (the chiefs) behind the scenes. A sport-specific technical package, provided by the AWG host society, lays out a rough race schedule with race formats and distances for each age group. This forms the basis of planning for the races.

The first step is to choose race courses for each day of racing, making sure the terrain is appropriate for each age group. You don’t want courses too easy or too hard.

Next comes volunteer recruitment. Each chief, who will have a specific area of responsibility such as timing or course set-up, will recruit a crew of volunteers. Some of these will be experienced, some not.

More often than not, skills will be a bit rusty after a summer away from the trails. So the next phase of the journey is to make sure everyone has the training they need, using a mix of exercises and practice events.

As the event approaches, detailed daily schedules are developed and refined, based on the overall event schedules developed with the host society. There is always a bit of give and take on these; it’s no good scheduling a race at 12:00 if the transportation people don’t have enough buses available to get the athletes to the stadium until 12:30!

Equipment needs – huge in these big events – also get addressed as the event approaches. While the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club owns the basics, a big event needs more in the way of communications, sound system, fencing, outhouses, waxing facilities, et cetera.

Flags are installed, podiums painted, radios programmed, phone and internet connections get installed, photocopiers delivered, bibs printed, food needs for volunteers and athletes on race and training days calculated and ordered…

As the big day nears, the activity can sometimes get a bit frenzied, as last minute details are sorted out, the inevitable wrinkles smoothed and volunteers, visiting officials and, of course, the coaches and athletes (who are, let’s not forget, the focus of all this effort) are briefed as to what to expect when they get to the race site.

Finally, the big day arrives. Getting the all-important first race out of the way successfully is always a big relief to everyone and the day starts early.

The trails will all be groomed to perfection overnight and at about 5 a.m. the course and stadium crews start arriving.

Fencing is erected, v-boards laid out to match the pre-determined designs, timing equipment is set up and tested, backup plans reviewed. And of course, everyone is keeping an eye on the weather, which can toss a large wrench into the works (as we all know).

Meanwhile, the race office is a hub of activity as start lists are posted, bibs prepared for distribution and last minute supplies are hunted down.

Timers get set, music gets cued up and we’re ready to go.

Last to arrive are the athletes, ready to race.

Once it’s over for the day, it all starts again for the next day, the next race format.

But it’s all worth it.

See you on the trails.

Claude Chabot is executive director of the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club. If you have questions about the club or its extensive network of trails, you can reach Claude at ed@xcskiwhitehorse.ca

Claude Chabot is executive director of the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club. If you have questions about the club or its extensive network of trails, you can reach Claude at ed@xcskiwhitehorse.ca