For the first time in its nine years the B.C. High School Mountain Bike Championships are coming to Whistler, and the level of interest is high.
More than 400 racers are expected to take part, including a team of approximately 20 riders from Whistler Secondary the exact roster will be confirmed on Friday. The championships take place May 27.
"Weve got about 400-plus kids and over 80 schools registered, but we wont have the final numbers until this Friday," said Les van der Roest, who is helping to coordinate the championships for the B.C. School Sports Association.
"Weve had an increase of about 10 to 15 per cent in rider participation this year, which matches with my own clubs increase. For sure having Whistler as the location really helps, theres a lot of interest in riding in that area, but I think were also seeing kids return to riding bikes. We went through a real freeride and downhill phase a few years ago, but now kids are out there again having fun on cross-country bikes, or riding the trails on their jump bikes. The big bike categories are going to be full."
Van der Roest also praised the level of support for the event from the Whistler community. The event is a result of a partnership between the municipality, Whistler Mountain Bike Park, and WORCA, which will be providing officials, timing, and volunteers, as well as tents, a concession, and grandstands. There will also be a mountain bike expo.
The event starts and finishes at the Spruce Grove park and the course includes a mix of singletrack, doubletrack and gravel trails through Lost Lake Park.
This is only the second year that Whistler has participated in the high school championships. Last year just two local students took part, Brandon Semenuk and Alex Prochazka, who finished first and third in their respective categories.
This year the team is a lot larger and will benefit from coaching provided by Eric Crowe, Sean Bickerton and members of Team Whistler.
"Ive been really proud of some of the younger students who are really starting from the beginning in terms of learning to mountain bike race," said Miriam Bride, who is helping to coordinate the event for Whistler Secondary. "Im especially proud of Jake Balzarini and Connor Warnock, theyve been coming to every practice and theyre going to the Loonie Races."
Bride says the event is a really community effort, with sponsorship from Whistler-Blackcomb, and support from the municipality and school, and WORCA. She thanked Bob Andrea and John Rae from the municipality, and WORCA youth director Greg McDonnell and race director Joe Lyons for their efforts in getting the event off the ground. Several parents are also donating their time. "The energy has been so positive," she said.
While the Whistler riders are strong Bride says it will be tough to earn podium spots. This year the top riders in each category will earn spots on the junior national team, and she expects all of the top riders from around the province to take part. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that the snow only recently melted in Whistler, which means local riders have had less time to train.
"Its going to be fabulous because the kids are awesome, but at the same time hopefully well also be surprised with the results," she said.
WORCA is setting the course and providing support for the event, and is still looking for volunteers to help out as marshals and in other capacities for the day. If you can volunteer your time, contact WORCA youth director Greg McDonnell at firstname.lastname@example.org