From ski racing in Canmore’s snowy mountains to skating along the Rideau Canal, this year’s U14 Nakkertok-Foothills exchange program brought together 71 teens for an experience of a lifetime. It’s a tradition for Nakkertok’sU14 racing program athletes to participate in a cross-Canada exchange. This year’s exchange with Calgary’s Foothills Nordic was an absolute blast.

For almost a year, our team raised funds and built momentum: selling hundreds of bottles of maple syrup, organizing loads of bake sales, and encouraging our parents to use FlipGive for online purchases. All the fundraising brought the team closer together than ever before. As we closed in on the Big Week, we also chose a mascot, Klister the flying squirrel, named after the one that lives in the chalet.

In November, we began counting down the days. Some of us were over the moon excited, others were a little nervous. Luckily, in the months leading up to our departure we had been given a lot of information about our host families, and got to know our twins over texts and video calls. We felt like we knew each other before we even stepped onto the plane.

Finally the day arrived. We gathered at the Ottawa airport at 4am on December 4th and ready for our adventure to begin. As soon as we arrived in Calgary, we got started by going bowling and exploring the city. We nearly lost poor Klister when he got stuck at the top of the Calgary tower (okay, maybe we threw him a little too high). Luckily with the help of the staff we managed to get him down safe and sound. We hiked, skied, skated, and skied some more. In Banff, we had epic snowball fights, a blast at the hot springs, and took in the gorgeous scenery from atop the Gondola. In our final days, we raced in Canmore’s mountains at The Alberta Cup, an experience which can only be described as simply breathtaking.

The week flew by, and sooner than we thought possible we were already on the plane back to Ottawa. Luckily for us, it was only a month until we got to see our ski exchange twins again.

Before we knew it, it was our turn to host. Days before the arrival, Ottawa had no snow and the canal was closed. Not the picture perfect city we wanted to show off.  But our snow dances worked (posted to Instagram for good measure), the snow fell and Ottawa looked like a postcard for the big day.

We were super excited to show our exchange twins all of Nakkertok’s amazing ski trails and everything that Ottawa has to offer. At last the day came, and we greeted our new friends at the airport with signs, cowbells and a whole lot of cheering.

We had so many amazing experiences, including fat biking at the Domaine Kanawe, showing off our home turf at Nakkertok and the amazing Kichi Sibi trails, tours of Parliament and Rideau Hall, the Canadian Museum of Nature and the War Museum, and getting free run of the Rideau Center. We only had one thing left on our bucket list: a skate on the Rideau Canal. Closed Monday. Closed Thursday. Closed Saturday. Sunday was our very last chance. Can you believe that the Canal opened exactly in time for us?  We joked that we were truly the “just in time” exchange.

We capped things off with a banquet, with amazing prizes donated from local businesses including EuroSport and FreshAir Experience. We reminisced over an epic slideshow, stuffed our faces with pizza and cheered when the prizes were given out, including two pairs of brand new skis.

Early (and I mean early!) the next morning, our ski exchange twins left for home.  We were told to stay home and sleep, but a bunch of us couldn’t resist and went to say goodbye to our new friends.

The exchange was an experience that we’ll remember forever. We got to see a beautiful part of the country, make new friends, all while doing the thing we all love – skiing!

We are so grateful to the Government of Canada for providing funding for this program, including paying for our flights; U14 parents who helped us organize fundraisers that raised thousands of dollars for the activities; local businesses who donated prizes; and the Kichi Sibi trail for providing the most bespoke trail grooming of our lives. We represented Nakkertok in a way that would make all of our coaches proud, and we can’t wait to see how much fun next year’s exchange group has.

-Audrey Mcfarland, U14 Racing Program