Whistler is producing champion ski racers at a rapid pace. What’s the secret?

Whistler is producing champion ski racers at a rapid pace. What’s the secret?

When Jack Crawford battled for a hard-fought bronze medal in the men’s combined in Beijing last week, he kept Canadians and ski racing fans glued to their devices, including his legion of friends and followers at the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. 

And before you know it, Crawford, along with his Olympic teammates and fellow Whistler alum Broderick Thompson and Brodie Seger, were right back where it started … in Whistler presenting medals to aspiring ski racing stars at the Janyk Cup.

“It was so magical,” said Mike Janyk, the clubs executive director and former World Cup skier. “To have them right back here connected to the grassroots right after they were on TV was so spectacular.”

Janyk explained that it’s rare for athletes to reconnect with their clubs so soon after a major event like the Olympics. “We saw it in the faces of the kids, the parents and the coaches,” he said. “That energy is so cool to share with everyone, I’m almost speechless about how amazing it was.”

The Whistler club had four skiers representing Canada at the Olympics, including the entire men’s downhill team. Jack Crawford’s bronze was the first Olympic medal for the Canadian alpine team since Jan Hudec’s bronze in Sochi 2014 . Earlier in the week Crawford – who came to Whistler as a teenager from Toronto and the Georgian Peaks Ski Club – finished fourth in the men’s downhill and sixth in super-G, agonizingly close to the podium in both races. 

Seger blazed to the third fastest time in the super G portion of the combined and eventually finished ninth after the slalom event. Broderick Thompson finished eighth in both the downhill and combined, capping a solid week for the Canadian men’s speed team.

On Thursday, Whistler’s Marielle Thompson executed a come-from-behind silver medal in the women’s ski cross in Beijing, adding to her massive collection of international hardware. It is the second Olympic medal of the 29-year-old’s career after winning gold in the event at Sochi in 2014. Thompson, sister to Broderick, is considered one of the best skiers to ever compete in ski cross, collecting 50 World Cup medals, two world championship medals and three overall World Cup crystal globes.

Winning at all levels

Now as a spectator, Janyk soaked in the Olympics.

“In one way it’s nice to not have to feel the pressure directly knowing what it’s like to have to perform,” Janyk said. “It was really exciting and I was super stoked … and also feeling for them at times but they really got us on our feet.”

A former slalom specialist, Janyk was impressed with the competition level of the slalom in the combined. “For Jack to put down that run was incredible, I actually thought he was going to beat Kilde … It’s fun to see someone so connected to the snow like he was. He was on, making it look effortless and every time he came out of the start he looked like one of the best in the world, which he clearly is now.”

Meanwhile on the NorAm tour, Whistler alumna Stefanie Fleckenstein sits in second overall in the NorAm standings with 10 podium finishes in 13 starts in NorAms races this season. Fleckenstein, who currently races with the International Ski Racing Academy, has been focused on the World Cup speed tour as well to gain valuable experience, learn the race tracks and regain a spot on the Canadian national team.

Another Whistler racer Cameron Alexander scorched a recent Europa Cup series in Kvitfjell, Norway, winning a downhill and finishing second the next day, followed by a second and fifth place in the super G races. He’s currently in fifth place in the overall Europa Cup downhill standings.

Cameron’s younger brother Kyle, has collected nine NorAm top fives this season, including four wins and currently sits second in the overall Nor Am standings. And Brodie Seger’s brother Riley, splitting his time between the University of Denver and the Canadian national team, has collected six NorAm top fives and three podiums on the NCAA tour this season. 

Asher Jordan, a slalom skier out of Whistler, has collected five NorAm podiums this season and sits in second overall in the NorAm slalom standings, in addition to World Cup starts in Adelboden, Kitzbuhel and Schladming.

You get the point.

Whistler’s secret sauce?

The Whistler Mountain Ski Club has a rich history dating back to the 1970s and have had a steady flow of ski racers reaching the provincial and national teams ever since. Starting with Dave Murray in the 1970s, to Rob Boyd in the 1980s, Allison Forsyth and Britt Janyk in the 1990s, Mike Janyk, Manny Osborne-Paradis, Morgan and Conrad Pridy and in the 2000s, to today with seven skiers on the Canadian national team and three on the BC provincial team. 

In the Whistler Mountain Ski Club cabin, a “wall of fame” is proudly featured, with current and former national team members. The wall is large.

“There’s a deeply embedded culture in this community around ski racing,” Janyk explained. 

Janyk believes one of the key drivers of this culture stems from the willingness of the Whistler community to take on massive events, like World Cups, the Olympics in 2010 and calendar mainstays like the Whistler Cup. He believes these events propel the club and inspire the youth.

“I was on my Dad’s shoulders when Rob Boyd won,” he said, referring to Boyd’s historic men’s downhill win in 1989 to become the first Canadian male racer to win a World Cup downhill in his home country. “And then I got my first signature by Kristian Ghedina in the 1990s at the World Cup here, then later as first year FIS racer I foreran the World Cup.”

“In 2010 at the Olympics in Whistler, how old were Cam and Kyle, Brodie, Riley and Asher? They were that 10-year-old on their parents shoulders watching their heroes.

“Those events, which are an extension of the club and the community and the parents … the will of people who put on these unbelievable undertakings of volunteerism. Talk about community building.”

Janyk commented that beyond marquee events and volunteerism, creative coaches within the club (current and past) have been a major driver of a winning culture which continues to inspire the next generation.

“When I came through the club we had a strong group of kids together and an equally strong group of coaches and we were all ready to push,” he said. “I don’t know how exactly it started and it was probably an organic growth of culture which came from creative coaches and volunteers ready to raise the bar.”

Whistler, the ‘Norway’ of North America?

When the Winter Olympics wrapped up on the weekend, Norway stood at the top of the standings, outpacing much larger countries like the U.S., Russia and Canada – despite having a significantly smaller population – you can’t help but think, how do they do it?

And more to the point of this article, is the Whistler Mountain Ski Club the “Norwegians” of ski racing in North America?

The Norwegian sports culture is proving to be unmatched yet simple, at least at present. They have created a pipeline of skiing stars that recharges and replenishes at an exceptional rate. They are so dominant in cross country and biathlon that some countries have conceded gold, opting for a strategy focussed on targeting silver and bronze.

The Norge’s collected three alpine medals in alpine, compared to one each for the U.S. and Canadian alpine teams – Ryan Cochran Siegle, men’s super G silver and Jack Crawford men’s combined bronze (although Alpine Canada would claim Marielle Thompson’s silver in the women’s ski cross to make it two).

Of further interest, 99 Norwegians competed in Beijing, compared to 223 for the Americans and 215 for the Canadians.

The Beijing Olympics came to a close last weekend, setting the stage for the Paralympics beginning in early March, where the Whistler Mountain Ski Club shifts its attention to another world star; Mollie Jepsen, who was a breakout star at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympics, winning a gold, silver and two bronze medals at her first Games as an 18-year-old.

The Whistler Mountain Ski Club trophy case continues to grow.

– This article originally appeared on skiracing.com

Perhaps Rome was built in a day: Vernon Ski Club steps up and delivers “terrific” race series

Perhaps Rome was built in a day: Vernon Ski Club steps up and delivers “terrific” race series

If they come, will you build it? For Rob Tupper, a long time ski racing “chief” with the Vernon Ski Club at Silver Star, this was the proposition presented to him a mere three weeks before a scheduled BC Alpine Teck Open race series.

The Vernon Ski Club (VSC) started the season with excitement around hosting three big events – the BC Winter Games, the Over the Hill Downhill and BC Alpine speed camp, but when all three were cancelled they were suddenly a crew without a boat. 

But circumstance changed quickly and soon BC Alpine came knocking, asking the club to fill in for a suddenly cancelled Teck Open Series when a devastating fire at the Kimberley Resort burned down the lift control building of the North Star Express lift. 

“We went from having three events to having zero … and then the Kimberley lift burned down creating a big gaping hole in the schedule for reasons beyond anyone’s control,” explained Tupper, also an alumnus of Mount Seymour Ski Club and Vancouver Ski Team.

So with three weeks to go Tupper, along with VSC president Lauren Carr and past president Murray Smith, put into action an aggressive plan to build a massive event team in short order. The first order of business, said Tupper, was to rally the troops. 

“Lauren and Murray reached out and found the leads and then we started to build the crews,” said Tupper, who’s also working towards a National TD assignment. “We hadn’t hosted a race in over two years and had to dust things off and find all the equipment and get things ready.”

The Race Notice was posted and before you know it 140 racers (90 girls, 60 boys) were registered and it was “go time”. 

Along with the leadership of Roger Poole, Program Director of VSC, things moved quickly with systems and physical set ups required to pull off a provincial ski race series. Tupper also included the assigned Technical Delegate (Russell Kirby) as early as possible in the event planning and race details.

BC Alpine added a layer of support to the club when Keven Dubinsky, club services manager, joined the team to help train volunteers in race administration and timing systems set up. And of course the VSC club pulled in all the local ski racing “veterans” to help not only do the heavy lifting but to also train the new families in the club.

With a dedicated race centre at Silver Star – a run which is permanently closed to the public – next came preparing the slope and dealing with everything that Mother Nature threw at them. “Of course the first day is when it snowed the most but the conditions improved throughout the  series and then finished on a high with sun and great conditions.”

Another pleasant surprise was the volume of parents from around the province who added volunteer support. “I think there was a lot of pent up demand for people to travel with the teams,” Tupper said, noting that he believes the resort was sold out of accommodations and restaurants were filled, due to the influx of families for the event. Tupper also mentioned that many of his old ski racing compatriots from the 1980s were at this series with their children.

“For me that was one of the most rewarding parts of the race, getting reacquainted with all these people that I used to race with a long time ago,” Tupper said. “And man, the quality of the skiing from the kids was amazing. There wasn’t any racing last year but clearly there was a lot of training as the kids came in here at a really high level.”

“Our objective going into it was for a safe and fair race, even if it wasn’t perfect,” Tupper said. “We can strive for perfection but we will get what we get.”

From all accounts, perfection was nearly achieved.

Full results from the Teck Open Series, hosted by the Vernon Ski Club

Photos supplied by Kiss the Monkey photography. Full click HERE to see all images.

“Ski racing is more popular than ever”

“Ski racing is more popular than ever”

BC Alpine reaches record numbers

If you build it, they will come.

The iconic line from Field of Dreams is a baseball reference but it could also hold true for BC Alpine and its 35 member clubs. Challenged with many obstacles over the past two seasons, including no racing due to provincial travel-related restrictions, the clubs have persevered.

Not only that, they’ve thrived. And today BC Alpine announced in a press release that it has reached its highest-ever membership registration, further validating all that hard work. Ski racing has begun in all corners of the province after a near two year absence.

The new record of registered members – athletes, coaches and officials – reached 6,451, topping its previous high of 6,250 set in pre-covid times in 2019. BC Alpine did not have any events between 2020 to 2021 due to Covid travel and other restrictions.

The feel-good stories and positive messages have been pouring in from across the province.

“From the volunteers to the coaches and especially the athletes – the positive energy was incredible,” said Christine Andison, of the Red Mountain Racers (Rossland) after hosting a Teck Open race series last weekend. “The skiers were so happy to be competing again and seeing friends they haven’t seen for almost two years, it was a very special weekend to say the least!”

The positive vibes didn’t end with just the young ski racers. “In all my years of volunteering I have never heard so many athletes saying thank you to the volunteers … everyone was very grateful to be together again on the course,” said Andison, who also serves as the Director of Planning and Development for Red Mountain.

Along with its 35 member clubs in four zones (Okanagan, North, Coast, Kootenays) the BC Alpine ski racing scene is not only alive, but flourishing. 

“It appears that ski racing is more popular than ever,” said Anders Hestdalen, the CEO of BC Alpine. “I’m very proud of our ski clubs and event organizers for hosting safe and smart races. We have worked closely with our volunteers to ensure that we have put all the systems in place to ensure that we keep everyone’s health and safety as the top priority.”

With ski races happening from U10 up to U21 and Masters at ski resorts large and small across BC, such as at Troll Ski Resort near Quesnel, the excitement level is high. The Lightning Creek Ski Club hosted a “Welcome Back to Racing” weekend for the North zone clubs including a two-run combined race, as well as a two-run night slalom .

“The weather cooperated, the volunteers were amazing and the kids were smiling,” said Michelle Klapatiuk, of the race organizing team at Troll. “We raced giant slalom under the sun and then managed to pull off our first-ever night slalom under the new lights.”

Meanwhile, at Whistler-Blackcomb, the first Coast zone U16 races took place under sunny skies “on a near-perfect, hard-packed Ptarmigan run” on the Dave Murray National Training Centre, where skiers from Grouse, Cypress, Seymour, Whistler, Sasquatch, and Mt. Washington attended. Whistler again hosted the Coast zone clubs again the next weekend for a series of U14 races which featured 120 young ski racers.

The Sun Peaks Alpine Club, meanwhile, hosted the season opening Teck races for U12, U14 and U16 skiers on the Nancy Greene International Race Centre last weekend.

GRAPHIC: Registrations by year

About BC Alpine Ski Association

VISION: To inspire skiers for life and develop world-class athletes. MISSION: To lead and govern the sport of Alpine Ski Racing in BC, to provide leadership and structure for our clubs to deliver high quality, sustainable and affordable programming and to communicate the competitive, recreational and lifestyle benefits of ski racing to the community.

Van Soest, coach Monty, reflect on “invaluable” experience at the Lake

Van Soest, coach Monty, reflect on “invaluable” experience at the Lake

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein

Yes, Al, you got that right. 

BC ski team speedster Gerrit Van Soest and BC team assistant coach Montana Molyneux both had the opportunity to take that motto to learn and grow from six days spent with the Canadian national ski team in Lake Louise during the men’s World Cup downhill and super-G week.

Van Soest, 20, in his third season with the provincial team, received an invite to forerun the men’s events, creating a unique opportunity to work directly with the team and coaches. Coach Monty was also invited to join Van Soest.

“There are so many little things in downhill that you never really learn about until you get the perspective of the people who have raced the track,” Van Soest said energetically.

From witnessing the Austrian team skiers inspecting the course at high speed on the race track during inspection – “is this even allowed?” he asked with a laugh – to watching video analysis with the team coaches, or the individual approach of each skier, Van Soest was vigorously processing all the information he had absorbed over the few days with the team. 

Learn, study, adapt. Repeat

Van Soest commented about a conversation with long-time Canadian men’s speed coach Serge Dugas, at Tickety Chute, a section on the upper course.

“It was crazy, there was so much information about the terrain there … I was trying to absorb it all and I’m still thinking about it now,” he said from Lake Louise after the men’s super-G cancellation.

Van Soest also singled out a video session with another national team coach, as a stand out learning experience. The coach spent considerable time with him analyzing one turn in great detail. “Chris [Powers] was running me through that first turn and he showed me where I was on and off my edge like three or four times … and every time I do that I’m losing a tenth of a second or more, so it really adds up.”

Photos by John Evely. johnevelyphoto.ca

“You have to be moving over every little bit of terrain so that your edge angle doesn’t change at all and your edge pressure doesn’t fluctuate,” he explained. “When you see the top guys you don’t even see the terrain because their legs move so subtly.”

Bumping shoulders with the sports elite was invaluable for the Vernon Ski Club alumnus, who has seven FIS podiums to his credit.

“I realized they aren’t “gods” and it sort of brought them down to a more observable perspective,” he said. “They’re just guys and they’re better at it and they’re super calm and tactful.”

Adding to the Coaching Toolkit

For Molyneux, in her first season coaching with the provincial team, having the fly-on-the-wall experience helped her see the finer points of prepping skiers at the highest level of the sport.

“The big one for me was inspecting with Geritt, we’d stop at each of the coaches to get feedback. He’s getting all the information that he needs from the Canadian coaches and I’m able to talk through with him what he just heard.”

With multiple course inspections over the week, the information volume was high. “I’d never been on a big boy downhill track and so the information that I was getting was endless,” she said. 

For Coach Monty, seeing the off-the-hill approach from the coaches was equally as valuable.

“You walk in to the video session and they have all the data there, the interval timing sheets, the GPS with speed on every turn and data on different guys from the Canadian team … and then you have the video,” she explained.

You see what happens on the hill but there’s so much more that happens off the hill especially on the training days. 

For take home lessons learned, Monty commented that her coaching toolkit was expanded.

“The speed side was an area I wanted to work on,” she said, regarding her season coaching goals. “I hadn’t had the experience and wanted to be able to coach the guys more confidently on the speed side. Now I can go into the NorAms with more confidence with this week of experience so it helped my progression as a coach a lot.”

The women’s Winterstart Lake Louise World Cup kicked off on Tuesday this week, with the downhill races scheduled for Friday and Saturday and super-G on Sunday. Gerrit Van Soest’s sister Katrina, will be competing the super-G.

“Labour of love”: Energetic Smithers club president optimistic and excited for club growth

“Labour of love”: Energetic Smithers club president optimistic and excited for club growth

Running a ski club is a “labour of love”, according to the Smithers Ski and Snowboard Club president Cormac Hikisch, but one that is also tremendously rewarding.

As the club president for past five years – and a former competitor for the same club in the 1980s and early 90s – Hikisch is encouraged by the growth and stability of the program, even during Covid times, and with the announcement of two high quality coaches is brimming with excitement.

The Smithers club recently announced that Leslie Firstbrook has joined as the program director and Dillon Prophet, the U14–U18 lead coach. Firstbrook’s coaching resume is long and impressive, including the Alberta ski team, the Osler Bluff club in Ontario, Nakiska and one season with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club.

Prophet, also an experience coach, has worked with clubs in Alberta and spent two seasons as an assistant coach with the Quebec ski team.

“We’re so excited to have such quality coaches taking the helm,” Hikisch said. “This leadership role will define and build our club programming and provide oversight to all club coaching and athlete development.”

According to Hikisch, the Smithers team is very much looking forward to travelling after a stalled season with Covid restrictions keeping the local ski team training on the same slope every weekend. “It was like groundhog day at the ski hill, but coaches Dick Eastmure, Claire Challen, Clay Collingwood, and Jessica Hall all did a great job getting creative and keeping the athletes challenged, having fun and learning.”

“We’re really looking forward to out-of-community competitions this season, like the BC Winter Games, the Teck Open Races and Whistler Cup in April,” he said.

Active and engaged executive

“We have a great mix of former club alumni and some new blood as well [on the Board], and a mixture of professionals, Hikisch said. “It’s a really keen group for fundraising, organization and all the factors of a non profit. We’ve done some great work with grants; we received a Nik Zoricic grant for safety netting, a local forestry service grant, NDIT supported us for a major cabin upgrade and ViaSport … new gates, radios. We’ve been successful on a lot of fronts.” 

But what excites Hikisch the most is the stability and retention of the skiers.

“The momentum of all of our athletes returning is so exciting,” he said. “To have four girls punch into the U18 age group is awesome. “We want to help create skiers for life – first and foremost – and to have an avenue for that calibre of racing is important to us as a club. The number of athletes who have returned just shows that we’re helping them create that passion and to put the effort in. That’s really exciting to me; I’ve seen so many young boys and girls stop playing sports too young.”

All ski racers enrolled with the club returned and the club has grown to over 120 competitors for the 2021-22 season. “It’s the most we’ve had in a generation,” Hikisch beamed.

The club is preparing for trip to the Mt Sima, Yukon, next week. “We’ll based out of Whitehorse with six days on snow planned and also we will utilize the Canada Games Centre for our off snow training.”

The Smithers club continues to prove the value of community, team effort, creativity and quality leadership can propel an organization to great heights.

Smithers Club executive team (2021-22)

Cormac Hikisch (President), Dave Bobb (VP), Ben Weinstein (Treasurer), Jeanne MacNeil (Registrar), Matt Sear (Alpine Chair), Mike Sanborn (Snowboard Chair), Lara Collingwood (Fundraising), Margaret Groves (Director), Gavin Murdoch (U10 Coordinator), Ryan Willman (U10 Coordinator), Charla Kilback (Secretary). And new member Joanne Devlin-Morrison (Fundraising).