THUNDER BAY – Three years ago Evan Palmer-Charette was simply happy to compete at Ski Nationals on his home course.
This time around he’s looking to win.
A member of the host Lappe Nordic Ski Club and an integral member of the National Team Development Centre-Thunder Bay, Palmer-Charrette has been battling the injury bug all season, but on Friday said he’s ready to hunt for gold when racing gets under way on Saturday morning.
“Last time nationals were held here in 2015 I was a first-year senior, so I wasn’t quite as much in the mix for the podiums,” he said.
“I for sure had some great races and it was amazing to experience racing at this level at home. This time around, being a couple of years older and a bit more competitive, it’s pretty incredible to be sleeping at home and racing right here.”
The past three years have been a huge learning experience for the 23-year-old Thunder Bay native, who took gold in the sprint competition at last year’s Ski Nationals in Canmore, Alta.
After undergoing a game-changing surgery two years ago, it’s been a lot of hard work getting to this point, Palmer-Charrette said.
“I’ve really tried to ramp my training hours up to an international point,” he said, as opening ceremonies got under way at ecole secondaire catholique de La Verendrye.
“For sure my approach, focus and racing has been elevated to another level.”
That said, he said this season has been an up-and-down one and a bit more challenging than he’d like.
“There was a lot of emphasis being an Olympic year on that. I certainly have struggled to stay healthy, which has hindered my overall results. But still there’s been some good skiing and this (week) has been a big part of it,” Palmer-Charrette said.
A repeat in the sprint race isn’t out of the question, and he figures he’ll do well in the 50-kilometre race and the 15-kilometre pursuit.
Palmer-Charrette won’t be the only local skier with something to prove.
Michael Somppi, who took both the team spring and the 50-kilometre title in 2015 at Lappe, will also be looking for a return to the podium in 2018.
It’s a bittersweet week for Somppi, who will also ski under the Lappe banner.
The Thunder Bay native is hanging up his skis after the competition, with plans to return to school this fall.
“These are my first races this year at home. I’ve been away all year, so it’s really nice to be here with all the familiar faces and it’s definitely emotional,” Somppi said, looking back fondly at his career.
“There have been a lot of great moments, but for sure the 2015 nationals here are hard to top, having those kind of results at home is really meaningful.”
On the women’s side, Katherine Stewart-Jones is the local with the best chance to top the podium, said NDC-TB coach Timo Puiras. She’ll be skiing for Nakkertok on Saturday with Zoe Williams, the women’s OUA champion.
Puiras said having the event in Thunder Bay is great for local skiers.
“We have a fantastic ski community here and this is just a way to showcase it to the rest of the country, that the skiing isn’t any better than it is here in Thunder Bay.”
And the talent level being showcased at the event is basically second to none, he added.
“The best skiers in Canada are here racing in Lappe. These are people who have been racing on the World Cup this season and we have a couple of Olympians showing up too. It’s the best we can get in Canada here, minus Alex Harvey.”