Many of the nation's top alpine skiers will make their pilgrimage to one of Canada's major race sites next week.
The 2016 Sport Chek Alpine Canada Championships will run from March 24 to 29 and Alpine Canada Alpin (ACA) is excited to bring the event back to Whistler. The contests were last held in the Sea to Sky corridor in 2014.
That time around, the event marked the final race of longtime World Cup racer Mike Janyk, who was greeted by adoring fans at the finish line.
There may not be a similar emotional draw there two years later, but the racing should be just as exciting.
ACA director of domestic events Maryse Daze expects roughly 150 athletes ranging from national team to development team and provincial racers to take part in the six days of action. As well, a handful of international athletes will come race at a site where the events are regularly a smash hit.
"It's a great privilege to be back at one of our national training centres," she said. "The ambiance around Whistler is so great and to have it at Whistler, working with Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WMSC) and the Whistler resort and the Weasel Workers, it will be an incredible event."
One major benefit of hosting such a major event in Whistler, Daze said, is the ability to host every discipline at one site. Last year in Quebec City, for example, multiple resorts were utilized to accommodate all the races.
"We're able to have all of our five disciplines under one event in one venue is really incredible. To be able to have our para team to race at the same time is great and just to be able to engage more with the public and with the sponsors and really create that incredible experience Whistler is able to offer," she said.
With so many participants considering Whistler their home resort, Daze explained, many will be glad to return and compete in front of friends and family.
"It's the end of the season. The racers race all season and are excited to be at their home resort," she said. "(The fans) come to the finish line and they want to see the racers that have been away all season."
WMSC executive director Mark Tilston said it means a lot for the club to host, especially for the next generation of competitors who can see their heroes shred up with their own eyes.
"It's great for our kids to be able to see the showcase, if you like, and see the pro kids before them," he said. "All these athletes are their idols and I think this really helps inspire our younger athletes."
The ladies' and men's downhill races will take place on March 24 and 25, respectively. March 26 will see both super-G races as well as the team event, while the alpine combined races go March 27. The nationals will wrap with the ladies' slalom and men's giant slalom on March 28 before reversing for the March 29 finale.
Tilston said more volunteers are always needed to make sure things go as smoothly as possible, and with snow seemingly likely to fall in the long-range forecast, there will certainly be work to be done.
"It's a great opportunity to get involved and learn the trade, so to speak," he said. "The workload for putting on a ski race is enormous.
"Particularly the nationals, being 10 days (including training), chances are we're going to have some front coming through in that period."
Those interested in more information or registering to volunteer can visit www.weaselworkers.com.
ACA announces year-end awards
In other ACA news, several Whistlerites were honoured on March 14 as the organization announced its year-end ski racing awards.
Whistler Mountain Ski Club's (WMSC) U14 head coach Danielle Robson received female coach of the year accolades.
"I was shocked and I felt pretty grateful to be recognized," Robson said.
This season is Robson's first as a head coach and she's jumped right in with an encouraging contingent of U14 skiers.
"We've had our biggest group ever that I'm coaching. There are so many of them that they're encouraging each other and we've had a really successful year both on the hill and just (with) the team dynamic," she said.
Robson noted she's had to grow a lot in a short time as she has grown more accustomed to the position, which involves much more than passing on skills to fledgling racers.
"The biggest learning experience for me has been managing 60-plus racers and managing the coaching staff and all the administrative roles that goes along with all the on-hill stuff that we do daily that most people don't really see," she said. "(I'm) learning how to be a leader."
Tilston praised WMSC's entire stable of coaches, and highlighted Robson's combination of provincial and NorAM racing experience and kinesiology expertise as a boon for the club. However, he said, she brings so much more than that.
"More than anything, she's just a great communicator. She's done a great deal to build her team. She's got a big age group with the U14s and she's also working across the age groups and overseeing the fitness programs," he said. "She's got an awful lot on her plate, but at the same time, has always maintained very much a steady keel."
Quebec City's Francis Royal won the male coach of the year award.
As well, Marielle Thompson won female ski cross athlete of the year after pulling off four wins and six podium appearances while finishing second overall in the FIS Crystal Globe chase. Chris Del Bosco received the award for the men.
Lastly, WMSC racer Jack Crawford, who is originally from Toronto, received the Minogue Award of Excellence along with a $10,000 grant for his accomplishments as a development team athlete. Crawford's season was headlined with a silver medal in super-G at the recent Junior World Championships.
Other winners included Calgary's Trevor Philp and Owen Sound, Ont.'s Larisa Yurkiw, who were the male and female alpine athletes of the year, respectively. Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.'s Mac Marcoux amd Calgary's Alana Ramsay were the male and female para athletes of the year. Hemlock Valley, B.C.'s Jennifer Voss earned the volunteer of the year award and Toronto's Eddie Creed was posthumously named the builder of the year.
Winners will be honoured at the Canadian Championships on March 26.
For more information on the winners, visit www.alpinecanada.org.