Canada’s Perianne Jones (Alberta World Cup Academy/National Development B-Team) racing to 32nd for her best World Championships distance result at 2015 worlds in Falun, Sweden. (Photo: Fischer/NordicFocus)
For the last 12 years, Perianne Jones was more or less on autopilot, leading the life of a professional nordic racer in Canmore, Alberta, and giving little thought to what would come after skiing.
The 30-year-old Canadian national-team member and Nakkertok Nordic prodigy had moved west from her hometown of Almonte, Ontario, immediately after high school. She immersed herself in full-time training and racing, and by 2009, made the Canadian World Cup Team.
Two Olympics and five seasons later, Jones was inching toward retirement. Health issues stunted the start of her 2013/2014 season; she discovered in the fall of 2013 that she had hemochromatosis, a genetic condition that causes too much iron in the body. She spent the next few months working to manage her iron levels and returned to the World Cup circuit in late December 2013.
Canadian biathletes and fellow cross-country skiers cheer on their own Perianne Jones on the first leg of the 4 x 5 k relay at the Sochi Olympics. the team finished 14th, one place better than their finish at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Two months later, she competed at her second Olympics in Sochi, Russia, placing 23rd in the freestyle sprint for her personal Olympic best. In the classic team sprint, she and teammate Dasha Gaiazova placed 11th after notching third in the same event at the 2013 Sochi World Cup a year earlier.
Jones ended her season with a second-place finish in the freestyle sprint at 2014 Canadian Nationals in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, and was subsequently named to the national development B-team last May.
Also last spring, her coach, Eric de Nys, left the national team to head up a new training program in Canmore: the WinSport Junior Cross Country Ski Team. Jones lost the bulk of the funding she had received as a World Cup Team member, yet decided to continue on for another season.
“I, for sure, wanted to do another year after Sochi, and do things right,” she said on the phone from Canmore in early April. “… [Not making the World Cup Team] was a bummer, but at the same time, I know I didn’t make the criteria. I had one top-ten two seasons ago and you needed two top-twelves. I was put on the development team, so it meant that this past season cost me way more than it ever has…”
“I, for sure, wanted to do another year after Sochi, and do things right.” — Perianne Jones
As a development athlete, she said the costs amounted to $40,000 to $50,000, and that included government assistance as a carded athlete.
“Even if you’re carded, you still have to pay for a place to live,” Jones said. “And living in Canmore is not cheap.”
Carded athletes essentially receive an allowance each month, she explained. The government cuts qualifying individuals checks that could be used for anything — even a flat-screen TV — but the amount is generally considered a living allowance.
“As a development skier, you have to cover housing and your team fee, which is around $10,000 and your winter expenses on the road, and then your flights to and from and around Canada,” said Jones, formerly of the Alberta World Cup Academy skier. “It adds up.”
Without stressing too much over finances, she focused on the 2014/2015 season and logged some of her career-best distance results, placing 32nd in the 10 k freestyle and 37th in the skiathlon at 2015 World Championships in Falun, Sweden.
Canada’s Perianne Jones racing to fifth in the 1.4 k classic sprint at 2015 World Championships in Falun, Sweden. She placed 24th overall. (Photo: flyingpointroad.com)
Also in Falun, she finished 24th in the classic sprint and was 21st for a season best in the preceding World Cup classic sprint in Östersund, Sweden.
“This past year I was healthy the whole season, which was quite an accomplishment for me,” she said. “It wasn’t my best season in terms of results, but health-wise it was really good. … I was pleased with both my sprints in Östersund and at world champs. It always can be better for sure, but I don’t have any regrets.”
In Falun, she announced she would leave the international-racing scene at the end of the season. She capped off her career at 2015 Canadian Nationals in Thunder Bay, Ontario, winning the classic sprint, placing second in both the 5 k freestyle and 10 k classic individual races, and fifth in the 30 k freestyle mass start.
In Thunder Bay, Nakkertok hosted a retirement dinner in her honor, complete with a video and several athletes and her brother Kieran Jones — Nakkertok’s head coach — speaking about the impact she had on their ski careers.
“That was the only time I cried all week,” Jones said. “The ski club has been a huge part of my life and maybe I didn’t realize how I had been a part of them so much in the last ten years because I haven’t been around that much. I would totally love to go back to Ottawa and be a part of that some more.”
She clarified that her involvement with Nakkertok would most likely be as a volunteer.
“I have an interest in being involved, not necessarily in coaching at a high level, but when I was growing up with Nakkertok the ski club was entirely volunteer run,” she said. “I will be involved with a ski club wherever I end up. I will miss certain parts of skiing, but to have Joel still a part of the team will be an easier way to make that transition.”
On Friday, Jones and her husband, Joel Jaques, a national-team wax technician, hopped aboard their 32-year-old Dodge getaway van and began a road trip to Ottawa. She guessed they might be gone for at least a month, with Jaques heading back to Canmore for a week in the middle of their trip for a training camp. How far they’d go depended on how the van ran. They bought it in February, about the time Jones knew her career was winding down.
“We were just kind of joking about vans; there was one in Canmore and we offered the guy quite a bit less than he was asking and he said sure, and we’re like, OK, I guess we’re doing this,” she said.
If they have time and the van makes it to Newfoundland, a friend offered to keep the van and buy their plane tickets back to Canmore. There, Jaques will go back to work with the national team and Jones will decide on her next move: she’s considering studying healthcare in Calgary or Ottawa.
Meanwhile, she also planned to start working in Canmore to cover the cost of last season. While she essentially made up her mind to race one last season a year ago, the bill she received at the end of it ultimately solidified her retirement.
“At the beginning of [last] season, I thought if I work and keep skiing, I would need to make the World Cup Team and need other women on the World Cup Team around me to keep going,” she reflected. “As the season kept going, I was realizing that even if all those things came into place, I wasn’t motivated to keep training for another year.”
Perianne Jones racing to 29th in the Canmore World Cup in February 2010. (Photo: Win Goodbody)
After graduating high school, Jones started a fall term the University of Calgary, but found the commute back and forth from Canmore difficult. She took one course from Athabasca University, but realized that didn’t work for her, either. Instead, she spent the next 12 years focusing on skiing.
“I’m happy with the decisions I made and I’m sure my ski career was the best quality,” she said. “Hindsight’s twenty-twenty, there’s always things that could’ve gone better, but at the same time I was able to commit 100 percent to skiing. Although I’m not educated right now, I’m really looking forward to going to school and I can put 100 percent of my energy into school.”
Jones and Jaques were also looking forward to having the freedom to visit friends this spring and not having to report back for training or other team obligations at the end of April.
“I’m looking forward to waking up and being able to what I want to do for exercise,” she said.
“I will not be out on my rollerskis,” she added with a laugh. “So far it doesn’t feel a whole lot different. I feel pretty good about my decision, and I’m confident it was the right one. So many people say that it’s really hard [to retire] and some people say it’s awesome, but I think it depends on the person. I have enough plans to keep me busy; I don’t think I’ll be bored.”
Looking back, she credited her two national-team coaches, de Nys and Justin Wadsworth, for the longevity of her career. She worked with de Nys, a former development coach then women’s team coach, for most of her senior years.
“Eric really got to know me as an athlete and I got to know him as a coach, and I really trusted him and we were able to work well together,” Jones said. “And Justin, he’s been with the team since  and he wasn’t my personal coach until this past year, but the transition was pretty seamless … I don’t feel like I lost Eric as a coach this year, but I feel like I gained Justin. Whenever we had a question about something, either of us could easily call Eric or visit him in his office.”
In her career, Jones notched three top-15’s at both Junior World Championships and U23 World Championships, finishing eighth at 2008 U23’s in Malles Venosta, Italy.
Canadians Perianne Jones (l) and Dasha Gaiazova celebrate their first bronze together in the Sochi World Cup classic team sprint. (Photo: Chandra Crawford)
“I had some really good World Junior experiences, some good results and some really fun times with the team,” she explained. “For sure, the two medals that I won with Chandra and Dasha respectively in Milano and Sochi were highlights.”
In 2012, Jones and Chandra Crawford teamed up for third in the World Cup freestyle team sprint in Milano, Italy.
Jones also recalled making the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, as a major high point. She qualified in 2009 when she and Sara Renner placed sixth in the World Championships classic team sprint in Liberec, Czech Republic.
“That was the first time we got to go to the medal ceremony … and it was with Sara, who was a pretty big mentor,” she said. “I was actually never really on the team with Beckie [Scott] or Milaine [Thériault], but I traveled quite a bit with Sara. … Having them come before me and have the results that they did and just being the people that they are, they made it pretty appealing to chase after ski-related goals … Everything was so positive that I never I had any doubt that A.) I would enjoy it and B.) it would be possible.”
The last of Canada’s three veteran females to retire — following the departures of Crawford and Gaiazova from the national team last year — Jones was excited to see what the next generation of women could accomplish.
“I spent the majority of the season on the road with Emily [Nishikawa] and that was just awesome,” she said. “I’m glad I was there for that and able to witness her best season ever, and I think it’s a sign for really great things to come. There are younger women coming up, too, and they have Emily to look up to so there’s no doubt in my mind that they will do great things.”
Regardless of where she attends school, Jones envisioned that she and Jaques would end up living somewhere in western Canada.
“We don’t really want to leave Canmore,” she said.
Several members of the 2014 Canadian Olympic cross-country ski team get the perfect photo opp at the Olympic rings in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (From left to right): Perianne Jones, Amanda Ammar, Heidi Widmer, Brittany Webster, and Emily Nishikawa. (Photo: Emily Nishikawa)