CANMORE – Taiwan's only youth cross-country ski development team experienced its first Canadian winter during a month-long training camp in the Bow Valley, and for some of the team, it was their first time seeing snow.
“Cross-country skiing isn’t something Taiwan knows about,” said Jeff Wang, the team’s head coach and Taiwan’s only FIS-certified skier. “All of them [the team] cross-country skied on snow for the first time when they came to Canada at the end of January. Prior to that, they were all roller skiing [in Taiwan].”
For years, Wang was a “one-man team” in the winter sport for his country and he felt it was up to him to change that.
"I felt it's time to start pushing this to the kids and opening up opportunities for them," he said.
With the Taiwan government’s blessing, Wang held eight “cross-country ski 101 courses” across the country in September with the hopes of creating a team to potentially compete at major international competitions.
He said there was interest with the athletes, as well as the government, because of the snow sport’s uniqueness to the region.
Of the interested kids, aged 10-15, who tried out, 12 were handpicked to join the youth development team.
Two athletes being Hsuan-Wei Chang, 14, and Sophy Cheng Peng, 11, who made the trip to Canada along with eight others. They both said they’re goals in the sport are to make the Olympic Games.
A short-term goal for the team is to get as many athletes qualified to an international ski competition next year in South Korea.
“At the moment, my focus is to help prepare these kids for the future,” said Wang.
With a lack of usable snow in Taiwan, part of Wang’s preparation plan was bringing the athletes to Canada from Jan. 26 to Feb. 21 to get in some time on the white stuff. Wang reached out about the trip to local ski clubs such as Alberta World Cup Academy and said his pitch was well received.
The Taiwanese athletes were welcomed and participated in weekly training sessions with local clubs and Canmore’s Ian Murray, a former world cup skier, helped out with coaching. They even got a taste of competition at the Teck Kootenay Cup in Kimberley, B.C. earlier this month.
“It’s been fantastic,” said Wang. “I cannot ask for more, I am very fortunate that we’re getting the help we’re getting.
“These kids who’ve never skied [in snow] before until three weeks ago, now what they can deliver and what they can do is quite impressive.”
The team was noticable around town wearing matching blue ski jackets and were able to catch some of the Alberta Winter Games at the Canmore Nordic Centre.