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Balmy temps test ski events

Parsons Memorial, Timber Tour scale back



Warm weather left organizers of local ski events with anything but warm feelings.

On what was supposed to be a busy Family Day long weekend, alpine racers and freestyle athletes were regularly set in holding patterns as a number of detrimental weather conditions presented themselves.

The 36th annual Bob Parsons Memorial Ski Races had to cancel both downhill events on Feb. 6 and 7, as the warm weather led to unsafe skiing conditions. About 100 volunteers rallied to get the course ready for super-G races on Feb. 8 and 9, however. WMSC president Bob Armstrong said challenges arose late in the week that led organizers to shelve the downhill races and focus on running the super-G, adding the weather was not conducive to the speed events.

"We had a small creek present itself on Thursday," Armstrong said. "We had to redirect the creek back into the woods. Friday, when we went up, there was a breach and we had to do it again.

"Without the help of many Whistler Mountain Ski Club parents, we would not have been able to pull off the race.

"We literally worked night and day for four days to get two days of racing."

Armstrong explained that a half-dozen volunteers at a time went up with shovels, dug through a metre of snow and diverted the water away from the course into a culvert.

Recognizing that families had come from across the province to see their youngsters compete, Armstrong credited Dave Murray National Training Centre manager Dale Stephens with playing a major part in ensuring the super-G events were able to go. He also credited Whistler Blackcomb for its help in the process.

"There's nothing more disappointing than when you get up there at eight in the morning and it's pouring rain and you have to cancel," he said. "At the end of the day, it has to be safe for the athlete and if the training environment and the racing environment isn't safe, then we cancel the events."

Meanwhile, at the Timber Tour and Super Youth Challenge stop, freestyle organizers had to cancel the men's slopestyle events, but were able to run all the others. The Timber Tour big air events had to be crammed into Feb. 9, though some competitors opted to leave early. On the men's side, all three divisions were reduced by about one-third after registered athletes pulled out.

Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Ski Club vice-president Julia Smart echoed Armstrong's sentiments about disappointing parents, but credited Whistler Blackcomb for its help in making events a go, even in the face of rain and fog.

"Obviously, they're disappointed, a lot of the parents, because they come here with their kids and want to be able to see Whistler at its best," she said. "The mountain's done a phenomenal job with these challenging conditions."

Skiing requires patience at the best of times, but with a group of enthusiastic nine- to 12-year-old super youth competitors, Freestylerz coach Tami Bradley said keeping them content wasn't all that hard.

"All the coaches up there do a really good job of rallying these kids, keeping them focused, keeping them busy," she said. "The events crew allowed us to do a few things differently than we would normally. While we were on hold, you'd hold the group that was next... and then you'd let the other kids hot lap."

Local medallists at the Timber Tour level included Sofia Tchernetsky, Josephine Howell, Sarah Howitt, Maia Schwinghammer, Ava Dunham and Raine Haziza on the women's side and Kai Martin, Stephen Lindsay-Ross, Charlie Armstrong, Luke Smart and Kai Smart on the men's side.