Yellowknife family braves -35 C cold, skiing all day to honour young skier's life

The Whelers, a family of four, braved -35 C cold to ski from sunrise to sundown on Jan. 2 to honour the life of Ole Heie, an avid skier with Olympic aspirations from Camrose, Alta., who died last summer at age 12.

Wheler family skied to honour Ole Heie, who died last summer at age 12 and was well-known in skiing community

Kerry Wheler, left, and her son, Toryn, are bundled up against the elements after they skied across Back Bay in Great Slave Lake to the Yellowknife Ski Club on Jan. 2, in -35 C weather. (Kerry Wheler/Facebook)

A family of four braved -35 C cold to ski from sunrise to sundown on Jan. 2 to honour the life of 12-year-old Ole Heie, an avid skier who died last July.

Kerry Wheler and her 11-year-old son, Toryn, got on their skis at their home on the shores of Great Slave Lake at sunrise, around 10:10 a.m., and skied across the lake to the Yellowknife Ski Club, where they were joined by Kerry's husband, Brett, and their eight-year-old daughter, Emma.

"We were able to see the sun poking up over the horizon across the bay, which was really beautiful," said Kerry.

Toryn, 11, and Kerry, skied from sunrise to sundown on Jan. 2 to honour the life of Ole Heie, a 12-year-old skier from Camrose, Alta., who died unexpectedly last summer. (Kerry Wheler/Facebook)

Kerry said the ski across the lake was probably the coldest part of their day.

"Yeah, it's very windy when you're crossing that lake," said Toryn. "My mum was like, 'Are you OK?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, my face is just, like, so frozen.' "

"We were glad that there were tracks across the lake so we could just put skis on the tracks and basically cover our face entirely and just glide across," said Kerry.

Heie, a prominent member of the skiing community in Canada, was honoured by the Camrose Ski Club with a 'Ski Like Ole' day on Jan. 2. (Camrose Ski Club/Facebook)

Honouring Ole, from sunrise to sunset

The family was participating in Ski Like Ole Lap-a-palooza, an event put on by the Camrose Ski Club in Camrose, Alta., to honour the life of Heie, a young club member who had Olympic aspirations.

According to his obituary posted online, Heie died unexpectedly last summer at the age of 12, while running on the trails at Miquelon Lake Provincial Park. 

"Last year, on Jan. 2, Ole skied 102 kilometres in one day, which inspired people across the country," explained Kerry, who attended the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta in Camrose, Alta., where she was part of the ski team there and knows Heie's family.

WATCH | Members of the Camrose Ski Club take part in Ski Like Ole event: 

The goal of the event was to ski as far as you could from sunrise to sunset.

After they arrived at the ski club, Kerry said the family spent their time skiing the club trails, surrounded by trees.

"[It] was quite protected and really lovely, and [the club chalet] also gave us a place to go and warm up, which we absolutely did," she said.

Emma Wheler, eight, and her dad, Brett, joined her mom and brother at the Yellowknife Ski Club for the day-long ski. (Kerry Wheler/Facebook)

Though she said they didn't ski the entire time the sun was up, they were in their ski boots with the intention of skiing that whole time.

She said they saw the sun go down and skied back across the lake, arriving home at 4:10 p.m.

"I went 11 kilometres," said Toryn, noting he felt good about what he'd done that day. 

"I was just getting to know Ole online. But then when he passed away, I just wanted to really honour him."

Kerry said every member of the family had filled their pockets with gummy bears because Heie "said gummies fuelled his 102-kilometre ski."

Toryn sets off on Great Slave Lake's Yellowknife Bay at sunrise. Mom Kerry said that when skiing in cold weather it's important to monitor vulnerable areas like extremities. Experts recommend hand and toe warmers, good face coverings and routes where you can access shelter if necessary. (Kerry Wheler/Facebook)

'Know your vulnerable spots'

Kerry said their family goes cross-country skiing often as it's something she and her husband have "always loved to do together." 

"And so our kids have grown up skiing and we're so happy that they have embraced it as something that they love as well."

She said it's important to know your vulnerable spots when you're skiing in very cold temperatures and make sure you maintain warmth in those areas, which might mean "an extra set of mitts or hand warmers if needed."

Heather Scott, president of the Yellowknife Ski Club, said toe warmers may also help, as it's important to pay attention to your extremities on cold days.

Toryn said he felt good about the 11 kilometres he skied to honour Heie. (Kerry Wheler/Facebook)

She said dressing in layers is also key to staying warm and suggested that wearing a good face covering where only the eyes are exposed is also helpful.

Scott also suggested staying close to home. "Choose a route where you can access a warm shelter quickly," she said.

Kerry encourages people to embrace the daylight while they can. 

"I mean, that was the striking thing of the day, and has been all these cold days, is just how beautiful it is."

Written by Michel Proulx with files from Lawrence Nayally