Spring weather graces fourth annual Father Mouchet Memorial Loppet
Old Crow’s Father Mouchet Memorial Loppet is getting bigger with each hosting of the event.
Over Easter weekend, the ski race gathered about 50 people in Old Crow to celebrate the memory of Father Jean-Marie Mouchet, who was a force of skiing and founded the Territorial Experimental Ski Training Program in the North.
He was a Catholic priest who was posted to Old Crow in the 1950s. The community was mostly Anglican and Father Mouchet turned his attention to the outdoors and taught the people of Old Crow to cross-country ski.
Mouchet died at age 96, having helped introduce many aboriginal youth – and elders alike – to the sport.
Pavlina Sudrich, in a 2013 article written shortly after his death, reflects on skiing in Silver Star, B.C. when she learned of his passing.
“When I crest the summit the sun pours out, lighting the clouds below me with fire. The First Nations say when a respected elder passes away and arrives in paradise, that person sends days of sunshine to where they left,” she writes. “Today it seems that both Father and I have skied our way to paradise.”
At his funeral, there were whispers of organizing an event to celebrate Father Mouchet’s legacy.
“It was something the community asked for,” said Sudrich, who helps organize the event.
She was one of the many athletes who went through the TEST program.
“Father Mouchet was a really big force in my life growing up,” she said.
She honours his memory by helping with the event.
Father Mouchet’s ashes were scattered at Old Crow Mountain and skiing in the loppet and along the trails he helped create back in the 1960s – the 8K and 2K loops – can be a spiritual experience.
“The trail is not for the faint of heart,” said Sudrich.
She describes “corkscrew climbs” and goes on to say that nothing Father Mouchet liked was ever easy.
The event, which is now in its fourth year, is made possible with support from Air North and the Gwich’in people.
“This would not be an event if the Gwich’in people did not want to show up,” she said.
This year more than 50 people participated in the loppet, with a record 23 skiing the 8K loop and about 10 people flying in from out of town.
“Over Easter Old Crow is a pretty bumping place,” said Sudrich.
Sudrich says that the event is more about enjoying what your body can do and being outside than about racing.
“Our emphasis has been less on elite racing and more on personal challenge,” she said.
Before the event Sudrich and national team skier Knute Johnsgaard, who also helps make the event a reality, visited classrooms at the school.
There, Johnsgaard shared experiences from the World Cup circuit, where he was a member of the team that won a historic relay bronze.
Since the loppet’s inception, Sudrich said she’s seen the youth evolve as skiers and as athletes.
There was plenty of snow for the event and the 20 hours of sunlight required the application of sunscreen.
“It’s always sunny,” she said.