Steve Omischl is easily one of Canada's top athletes in the history of freestyle skiing, and that's saying something for a country that has won the overall Nations Cup the past six seasons. In his 10 years on the World Cup aerials circuit, Omischl has been on the podium 40 times in 81 events, winning 20 gold medals. He has two overall World Cup globes to his credit, four podiums at the FIS Ski World Championships (including one gold medal) and three Olympic Games experiences.
And for the month of August - and possibly on a more full time basis after that - he's returning to Whistler and the water ramps where he got his start with the national development team a decade ago. For this visit he's in town as a coach, a first for Omischl, working with a group of young athletes currently enrolled in a trampoline program created by the Whistler Gymnastics Club and the B.C. Freestyle Ski Association.
Omischl is himself here as an employee of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association, tasked with sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm, testing the waters as a coach and gauging the level of interest for a formal aerials development program in Whistler.
"I'm probably about 99 per cent retired (from the World Cup circuit)," said Omischl, although he hasn't entirely ruled out making a comeback. "I wanted to take a year off from competing regardless, but if I enjoy coaching and it's productive for the kids then I can definitely see myself doing this full time."
Aerials can be a rough sport at times, and Omischl has had his share of injuries over the years. A month before the 2010 Games he suffered a concussion that grounded him for almost two weeks when he should have been training a new jump. It was poor timing for the 31-year-old - he made the finals at Cypress and went on to place eighth overall but had come into the Games as a favourite to reach the podium.
The timing is right to start a program in Whistler. Whistler has the only water ramps in Canada west of Quebec, while the Whistler Gymnastics Club is preparing to move into a new facility with better equipment for aerials training, including in-ground trampolines with ceiling-mounted bungees for jumping and twisting.
Omischl's program will focus on local kids in beginning, ages 12 to 17. But in the future the program may accept kids from outside the community, leveraging the new athlete accommodation at Cheakamus Crossing - a legacy of hosting the 2010 Games - and the flexible sports school program at Whistler Secondary.