Diversity on the Trails, How Nordiq Canada’s Instructor Stream Program is Transforming Cross Country Skiing for All

May 01, 2024

“In the off-season, our athletes would hop on cross country skis,’ Keisha Lewis explains. “They use it as their cross training. I saw our competitive guys do it, and then I had some homeschoolers say to me: ‘Oh, I’d love it if my kids could do something like that,’ I reached out to Kanata Nordic and launched a home-schoolers cross country program for the kids.”

“Problem being, as so often happens, there was no one willing or available to implement what was obviously a wonderful idea. “So,’ notes Lewis wryly, “I led it.

Lewis spends her summers happily out on the water, working at the Ottawa River Canoe Club, a non-profit paddling organization that has been operating recreational and competitive programs in the west end of the nation’s capital for over two decades.

“As I’ve been teaching myself to ski the last two or three years, I’ve also been teaching these homeschoolers.”

Which is where Nordiq Canada’s newly introduced Instructor Stream becomes an ideal fit.

The courses – part of a $322,000 funded program through Sport Canada’s Community Sport for All Initiative – are designed to train instructors of all experience levels to better service new skiers in their charge. The program provides teaching materials, helps them develop teaching skills, introduces them to Para nordic skiing, and emphasizes making the programs welcoming to all.

An Instructor Stream Workshop takes place in Canmore AB

“There’s nothing but awesome things to say about it,’ Lewis praises. “I’m very much a beginner coach – I don’t know if I’d even call myself a coach – when Kanata (Nordic) offered me the opportunity to attend an instructor course in Kelowna, I jumped at it.”

Nordiq Canada hosted six courses across the nation. In addition to that, 12 grants were awarded to clubs to offer lessons to all Canadians, and especially those from under-served communities like Black, Indigenous, and 2SLGBTQIA+.

“I didn’t have many expectations, honestly. I went there with an open mind, and I definitely received more than I could’ve anticipated.

“My big take-away was to what to look for as an instructor, no matter what level people are at there are very basic things – stance, body posture – that we can tweak and be able to progress.”

Nadia McKenzie also attended the course in Kelowna. Program lead for the Black Ottawa Connect initiative, Nadia became involved in skiing after speaking with Marlene Alt, spearhead of the We All Belong program at Kanata.


“I was quite intimidated when I got there because this was only my third time cross country skiing and suddenly, I was learning to coach. I was like: ‘Oh, my gawd. What did I sign up for? I feel like a fraud. I shouldn’t even be here.”

But, with the help of those running the workshop, McKenzie caught on quickly.

“I went in there,’ she says, “with all my heart because I want to continue to work as an instructor and a person of colour, so that more members of my community can come out and participate in these sports that maybe they don’t think they have a place in.

Stephen Novasad works with a participant during the Instructor Stream Workshop in Canmore AB.

“Programs like We All Belong pull at my heartstrings. I really am trying to get members of the Black community involved. I know it’s not all-that accessible. I know they don’t see as many black/brown people in that area. So, selfishly, I think maybe if they see me out there – even if I get two, three of four people come out from Black Ottawa Connect in partnership with Kanata – they might say: ‘I like this. I want to continue to do this.’ “If so, I’d be so happy.”

In terms of on-the-trails experience, Ronnie Gordon, another Kelowna attendee, had a massive head start on Keisha Lewis and Nadia McKenzie. Self-taught, skiing since 1975, they’re currently the Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance club lead for Nickel Plate Nordic Centre in Penticton, B.C

Gordon helped found the Rainbow Outdoor Collective in 2023, a program designed to promote inclusivity and acceptance for anyone aged 12 to 25 to get involved in the sport.

“The (Instructors Stream) initiative,’ enthuses Gordon, “is spot-on. The work done by that crew is just amazing. They put so much into this that I don’t think we can give them as many kudos as they deserve.

“The real key to this Instructors Stream is to be able to get people to do stuff and they’re not even aware that they’re learning. They didn’t hit us with any real technical stuff. We just jumped and suddenly we were in the power position.

“So, it’s effortless. I adopted that very quickly into my own lessons. I really liked the way the whole thing was planned. Just getting in there and becoming a cohesive group that really were friends in just two days.”

The Instructor Stream is unlike most courses offered in the Cross Country skiing world. Rather than getting a skier to a certain level, it’s about meeting a skier at their level, and catering to the program to allow them to improve. The goal is to inspire an individual to continuously improve, and to then inspire others to do the same.

“I just want to give people that access point,’ explains Lewis. “I’m not necessarily trying to take someone from beginner to competitive. I’m just giving them that open door when they need to be shown the training avenues they can take.

“I think there’s still a lot of work to do. Finding people like Nadia and I who are eager and able to jump into new sports and get other people to participate. It’s about finding not only more people, but more diverse people.”

Keisha Lewis continues to love the water during the summer months, of course. Only now she loves the trails come wintertime, too.

“There are so many people who can take this type of (Instructor Stream) training and help more people ski,’ she emphasizes. “I felt I got a very good understanding of the sport in Kelowna, what it means for adults to participate, but I still have to take what I learned and see how I can apply it to the groups I work with.

“Personally, skiing has changed my winters. I actually look forward to winter now. And if that can happen for me …

Ronnie Gordon, Nadia McKenzie, and Keisha Lewis ski during the Nordiq Canada Instructor Stream Workshop in Kelowna BC.