A junior racer at Nickel Plate Nordic Centre led the red team's cross-country skiing "snake" during the skill development program's Fun Day activities last year. Coaches also got into the act, with Audrey Perry wearing a Raggedy Ann wig and another coach wearing a red kimono.
In the process, the South Okanagan mother learned what she can and can't do as a coach when her own children are enrolled in Nickel Plate's skill development program.
"I helped in my daughter's class as a volunteer parent for years, but that was always with a different coach. She wanted me to coach her group during my first year four years ago, but she was at such a skiing level that I just didn't want to try it in my first year. I thought Bunnies would be easier," said Perry.
She admits with a laugh she was "terrified" during her first class even though it was the Bunnies.
"They were a lot of fun, but in some ways I think it's the hardest group to coach. They are so widespread in their ability. Some can balance really well and can start going down hills as soon as you put them on skis. The others are falling down every step they take. It's a little crazy, but they all love you, so it doesn't matter."
In hindsight, she thinks her daughter's level-two class probably would have been easier than instructing the Bunnies.
Her son, Logan, was another matter entirely when he joined the Bunnies and she coached him.
"It worked for a couple of years, but last year I gave up coaching my son, partly because I don't have the skate-skiing ability to teach a higher level, but mostly because I cannot be in the same group as him. He won't listen anymore. When he was young and cute, he would listen. Eight-year-olds don't listen to their mothers," Perry said with another laugh.
Perry coached for skill development program co-ordinator Chris Toneff for several years, but Toneff, whose kids are now into racing, wanted to establish a full racing program this season. So, Perry took over as skill development program co-ordinator while still coaching.
"My kids were in the program, and I helped a lot anyway. I saw coaching as a way of improving my own skiing. We get a lot of training throughout the year - three in-service training days. If we go higher in the levels of coaching certification, we get quite a lot of help with our technique," she said.
"It has definitely improved my skiing. On Saturdays, mostly I just go out for my two hours with the kids. It's just so much fun. The kids are in such a great space. Everybody loves being outside, and I like making it fun for them. Basically, you're making them go for a hike and they don't really realize it. And it's fun seeing it from their eyes."
The skill development program has 62 children from four to 13 years of age and 11 volunteer coaches this season.
"That is about average," said Perry. "We could handle more if we had more coaches, so we did cap it. We have quite a few new kids this year, I assume, the result of the Grade 4-5 cross-country ski lessons through the schools."
The youngest children start in Bunnies and have a one-hour lesson on eight successive Saturday mornings. Older children have two-hour lessons every Saturday in the four levels in Jackrabbits and then Track Attack.
"My 11-year-old daughter, Samantha, is now in Track Attack and she's very good. I've never tried, but I think she's faster than I am in the sprint. They are all very good skiers," she said.
Some children will do Track Attack for two years in a row (one has enrolled for three years) because they would have to devote more time to the sport if they joined the junior racers, who ski twice a week.
"The family atmosphere of the lodge on those crazy Saturday mornings is very warm and inclusive. The kids ski together, make snow caves together and toboggan together. They make lasting friendships."
After the second or third lesson of the season, the skill development program hosts a barbecue outside in the snow for all of the families.
"It is a nice way to get the families better acquainted and it is always a lot of fun," said Perry.
At the end, everyone is encouraged to enter the annual Nickel Plate loppet, which is this weekend.
"We had quite a turnout last year - about one-half of the students. We filled up the old cabin with kids and prizes for our celebration at the end of the unofficial mini-loppet."
Most of those in the Track Attack program will participate in the loppet. Coaches usually try to organize a special event, such as another race for fun.
"This year, we're hoping to add an overnight sleep-over, a camp-out in the main cabin. We'll have a night ski and a dinner together since some of them will move on."
Cross Country B.C. has just changed the entry age to 14 years from 16 for its coaching program. Graduates of the one-day introductory coaching certification course become assistant coaches. Perry has one 14 years of age and one 17.
"They're great. The kids love them and listen to them better," she said.
The next level is the community coaching course. It's 2 1/2 days, consisting of a half-day in the classroom and two days on snow.
Perry is thankful to have help from co-ordinator Todd Redding this year, "which makes it a lot less tiresome," she said.
"He handles the special events and getting parent volunteers for the coaches while I handle the coach training, group setup and general issues that come up."