Nordic skiers competing to represent Canada were left sweating for the wrong reasons after their equipment failed to arrive on an Air Canada flight to Prince George, B.C.
The Nordiq Cup World Championship qualifying event is scheduled to begin in the central B.C. city on Wednesday morning, with qualifying athletes going on to represent Team Canada in Whistler next week at the World Ski Championships.
Head coach Maurice Samm says his team of athletes from the Chelsea Nordiq and Nakkertok ski clubs in Quebec arrived in Vancouver on Saturday. Their Air Canada flight to Prince George on the same day was cancelled and rescheduled for Sunday morning.
Upon arriving in Prince George, the team realized that nearly 40 pairs of skis and other equipment had been left behind at Vancouver International Airport.
"It's just frustrating," said Samm. "I have five athletes that are wanting to be at World Junior Trials this year … and we have no skis."
The missing equipment arrived on Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the first races — but that still leaves the affected skiers at a disadvantage, Samm says.
'A couple of seconds ... makes a big difference'
Teams typically arrive early for competitions to test out all their skis and decide which ones to compete with. Samm says competitors without their equipment are at a greater disadvantage if they can't give time to those critical decisions before the race.
"At this level of competition, we're playing in the level of seconds. And so a couple of seconds here, a couple of seconds there makes a big difference," he said.
Samm believes two of his competitors have high chances to qualify for the U20 World Juniors Championships — but only if they have enough time to prepare with their skis.
Clara Hegan, 18, and Tory Audet, 17, are the No. 1-ranked U20 nordic skiers in Ontario and Quebec, respectively. Between the two of them, the girls were missing 19 pairs of skis, eight pairs of poles, ski boots, and some of their luggage.
"Me and Tory both have been training all year. This is one of our most important races," said Hegan.
"It's a little bit stressful that at the end of all of it, this is what might be the reason why we cannot qualify."
While Hegan and Audet are technically in the age bracket for U18 competitions, they both are "racing up" at the U20 level with older skiers.
"Last year I made World Juniors and I was hoping to do it again, so it would be upsetting if I wasn't able to compete," said Audet, who placed 34th overall in 2022.
The Chelsea Nordiq and Nakkertok teams say while missing baggage isn't new in the ski world, it's not common to wait this long.
"We planned our flights with plenty of time to spare in case of this," said Hegan.
"We know that there's been multiple chances, multiple flights for [Air Canada] to send out our equipment, and ... they continue to be very vague in what's going on."
An Air Canada spokesperson told CBC News that the equipment was not transported on the competitors' flights due to "regional aircraft space constraints."
They said arrangements were made for the skis to arrive Tuesday afternoon.
Samm says the team is now eager to start their preparations.
"These kids have been training for years. There's a lot of time, energy, and money that has gone into preparing for these competitions," he said.
"We're here to compete and we're here to really give 'er."