Hanaa Huppunen of Finland holds on tight to her country's flag while cheering on her father at the 2011 Sparkling Hill Masters World Cup Cross-Country Skiing Championships Wednesday at the Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre.

Hanaa Huppunen of Finland holds on tight to her country's flag while cheering on her father at the 2011 Sparkling Hill Masters World Cup Cross-Country Skiing Championships Wednesday at the Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre.

Spirits high at Masters World Cup

Normally a soccer buff, Shannon Smart thought it would be cool to volunteer for the Sparkling Hill Masters World Cup cross-country ski championships in order to meet people from around the world.

With 21 other countries being represented besides Canada, Smart has had her chance.

“Last week a lady from Holland came up to me, saw me wearing my Canadian Olympic mittens and she said I must have a very nice grandma,” smiled Smart, a recreation co-ordinator for the Boys and Girls Club of Vernon. “I had to explain to her that, no, I bought them. I support Canadian athletes.”

Working as a transportation volunteer, sometimes in good weather or, as was the case Wednesday morning, in overcast conditions with a cold north wind blowing through causing the flags around Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre’s Rotary Stadium to be blowing straight out, Smart’s role is to make sure World Cup visitors and athletes get on the right bus or help them off the transportation vehicles.

Decked out in layers of clothing to keep warm because of the nasty wind, and with a purple scarf over her mouth, Smart said her volunteer shifts have been a lot of fun.

“We make sure the people are going to Silver Star rather than accidentally hop on the bus to Vernon,” said Smart. “We’ve been doing a pretty good job. People come up and start speaking Russian or something, they say ‘I need to go here’ and they’re drawing. There’s been lots of drawing in the snow.”

Perhaps the most popular volunteer on this wintry, windy, Wednesday morning is Julia McDonnell, a cross-country skier from Vancouver. She’s got the portable hot chocolate dispenser firmly in place on her back.

“I wonder why my back is so warm and the rest of me so cold,” laughed McDonnell, accompanied by Vernon resident Brenda Thorlakson, who was handing out nuts. “It’s been a great time here at Sovereign Lake.”

At the finish line, ski patroller Tom Tull of Vernon marvels at the condition of the masters skiers.

“I moan and groan about aching knees and aching back and there are people out here racing who are 90 years old. Absolutely amazing,” said Tull, whose job is to make sure everything and everybody is okay at the end of their races.

Inside the Events Centre tent, Dave Stanley – from Ireland – is helping out GumTree Catering, which is providing hot food, soup, sandwiches and baked goods to the athletes, officials and visitors.

“I have a friend from Vernon, I came to visit in December and found out this was going on, so I stayed to help out,” said Stanley, who went for his first downhill ski at Silver Star earlier this year. “We’re putting in 12-hour days, but it’s a lot of fun. Everybody’s been great. Our most popular items are the soup and sandwiches, plus our hot food like great chili, pork ribs and cheeseburgers have gone over quite well.”

The World Cup has also been a time for families to get together.

Carrying a flag into the stadium from her native Finland, Hanaa Huppunen was going to cheer on her father, Raimo, 71, in a relay event. Raimo placed fourth on the weekend in the 15-kilometre free skate.

“We have enjoyed ourselves very much,” said Hanaa, accompanied by Raimo’s 88-year-old aunt, Saara Huppunen from Ontario, and Raimo’s cousins Irene Macklem and Irma Watt from Prince George.

Longtime friends and skiing rivals Marvin Penner of Vernon and John Rozell of Vancouver have been having a blast at their first World Cup.

“I’ve had one good race, one so-so,” smiled Penner, a Safeway pharmacist. “My 30K race was good, 10K was bad.”

“We’re 1-1 against each other this week, that’s why his 10K sucked, because he lost,” laughed Rozell. “Everybody here has been so good. The competitors are so much fun. The organization has been brilliant, sweet, flawless and great all week.”

According to volunteer race secretary Miriam Ryan of Vernon, who is responsible for all the registration of the athletes and volunteers, what has left a lasting impression on the visitors is Sovereign Lake’s amazing snow conditions.

“It’s been an eye-opener for the Europeans and Americans, and for Canadians from out-of-province, everybody has been totally amazed at the quality of the snow and the quality of the trails,” said Ryan, an avid cross-country skier who tries to get out on the tracks twice a week.

“Everybody has been saying how great it all is. I think it’s good for Sovereign Lake and the North Okanagan because a lot of these people will likely come back.”

The World Cup has drawn close to 1,200 athletes. The final day of racing is today.