GREAT BRITAIN – Cross-country skier Tabitha Williams knows what you’re thinking: it doesn't even snow in the United Kingdom.
However, snow or not, determined Canmore teenagers Williams and Sophia Wilson have taken an unconventional route in pursuing their skiing dreams, trading in the Maple Leaf for the Union Jack and joining British Nordic Ski Team.
“I feel like there’s a lot more opportunity for me with Team Great Britain than there would be for Canada,” said Williams, 18. “I was high up in the rankings in Canada, but I wasn’t exactly like first in making the junior development team.”
Williams and Wilson, who have dual citizenship with England and Wales, respectively, are training in Lillehammer, Norway, for the next three months as members of the British Nordic team with Olympians and the top junior Norwegian women in preparation for the 2023 world junior championships in Whistler, British Columbia.
The pair are former Canmore Nordic Ski Club athletes, starting from jackrabbits and going through the levels. This year, they were named to Nordiq Alberta’s 2022-23 ski team. The FIS points they gained in Canada, from podiums at nationals to Nor-Am Cup racing, easily placed them on British Nordic’s performance squad, which is a step down from its Olympic team.
When the prospects spoke about their new surroundings and twice-a-day training, excitement overflowed from their voices.
“After being here for a month and seeing how they train, I just love it,” said Williams. “I’ve decided I want to stick it out, [the Winter Olympics] will be in 2026 and I would just absolutely love to represent my country [Great Britain] and go to the Olympics.”
Her family said they would be front-row, cheering at the top of their lungs if she’s at the Games in Italy.
It was a “I got to do this” moment for her.
Williams dream board is more in tact than Wilson’s, who has been rejuvenated in the sport after visiting Europe last season to race.
“That just opened my eyes to the skiing culture over here, which is insane. It’s just completely different than what we have in Canmore,” said Wilson, 18. “Racing in Europe made me motivated so much and made me love skiing even more. That’s what made me want to come here.”
Wilson, a sprint specialist, praised her coaches back home, but is living in the moment and focusing on the season and new experiences in front of her.
Having the freedom to train is making for an exciting time for the young athlete.
“My goal really for this year is to put my head into the game and train and focus on racing to the best to my ability,” she said. “I just want to see where I can go with it, and still make sure I’m happy with it.”
The seed to switch from Canada to Great Britain started in 2016, when Williams was a starry-eyed girl watching Great Britain’s finest skiers on the frozen trails of the Canmore Nordic Centre during the world cup’s last trip to town.
“We had no idea there was any British people on the world cup,” said Williams. “[My family and I] went and met them after the race, we met the coach and Olympians. I just remember I thought it was the coolest thing.”
Having been born in England, Williams said she identifies as more English than Canadian.
Going from the Canadian racing system to the British became a reality for Williams when she discovered that B.C. skier Gabriel Gledhill switched FIS licences, his racing licence for the country, from Canada to Great Britain.
As soon as she and Wilson graduated from Canmore Collegiate High School, they also switched their FIS licences and set off to the UK.
The downside this season, however, is after the Olympics, GB Snowsport’s funding was slashed for cross-country skiing. The training and time spent overseas is largely being paid for by their families.
“There wasn’t a lot of funding for us,” said Williams. “It’s been quite expensive. The down side.”
The pair will raise money for their flights to world juniors in Whistler.
Although, they think the new versions of themselves will prove they are on the right path.
“We’re very competitive with the girls in training,” said Williams. “I feel like I have made a huge improvement in my skiing. I feel twice as strong, I feel twice as fast.”