This week the Whistler Mountain Ski Club will play host to more than 375 athletes from 24 different nations at the 18 th annual Rio Tinto Alcan Whistler Cup, one of the biggest international juvenile ski races in the world.
The races are open to K1 racers aged 11 and 12 and K2s aged 13 and 14 at the start of the season.
Canada will be represented by all levels. The top athletes are selected at national and provincial championships to form Team Canada. Those athletes have benefited from additional coaching this week. Other promising athletes are invited to join provincial teams, or travel to the Whistler Cup to compete on behalf of their clubs.
The list of international athletes that have taken part in the Whistler Cup in the past is growing. The list includes Benjamin Raich of Austria, Anja Paerson of Sweden, Denise Karbon of Italy, Tina Maze of Slovenia and U.S. team stars Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso.
Most of the members of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team have taken part, including super G World Cup champion Erik Guay, Britt and Mike Janyk, Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Robbie Dixon. Olympic ski cross champion Ashleigh McIvor also raced in the Whistler Cup.
Given the World Cup connection it's no wonder that the athletes take it seriously.
This year Team Canada is comprised of just eight skiers, three of them from the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. In K2 the WMSC is represented by Blake Ramsden and Emma King, who will join Alix Wells, Martin Grasic and Alex Kreutz. In K1, the WMSC is represented by Mikayla Martin, who is joining Cassandra Mah and Sam Mulligan from the Grouse Mountain Tyee Ski Club.
The WMSC has also qualified several skiers for Team B.C. In K2 Ladies, Charley Field and Rae Swette will be joined by Mia Henry, Hallie Maclachlan, Jamie Park and Emlie Tremblay. In K2 Men, Bryan Cadman, Logan Pehota, Charlie Renzoni and Brodie Seger will be joined by Peter Behncke and Patrick Carry.
The K1 Ladies include Siobhan Finan and Stefanie Fleckenstein from the WMSC, as well as Tyra Collombin and Courtney Hoffos. The K2 Men are Alex Gerhson and Riley Seger of the WMSC, joined by Matthew Kreutz and Edward Lee.
This year the big news is the return of Austria and Italy to the lineup after being absent for several years. Less than five years ago the Whistler Cup hosted all the top teams from Europe, but participation declined with the loss of a sponsor that awarded the winners of the Trofeo Topolino juvenile races in Italy with plane tickets to the Whistler Cup. The number of teams continued to increase however, with more participation from teams in South America, eastern Europe and Asia, and this year there are a record 24 nations taking part.
"That's the most we've ever had and I still think we've got a few economic factors out there to overcome or would have been even bigger," said Wayne Holm, chair of the Whistler Cup. "The Olympics being here has had a lot to do with increasing our numbers this year."
The competition gets underway on Friday with the K2 super G race and the K1 Kombi - a format of racing that combines other disciplines to test skills.
A Parade of Athletes will go through the village Friday at 5 p.m.
On Saturday the K1 and K2 women race giant slalom and the K1 and K2 men the slalom. They switch disciplines on Sunday. The overall team awards, as well as the awards for the top Canadian racers, will be presented at the awards ceremony at the base of Whistler Mountain at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.
It's a massive undertaking to host so many athletes and upwards of 300 volunteers are involved in preparing the courses, staging the events, organizing lunches and evening awards banquets and assisting teams.
"We have a tremendous event here," said Holm. "It's the only international annual event that Whistler has, and it's been going for 18 years. To keep it up to the quality that it is requires a lot of high quality volunteers and the sponsors we have."
This year the Whistler Cup signed Rio Tinto Alcan as their headline sponsor for two seasons while Manulife Financial has also stepped up its support to become a platinum-level sponsor.
More information is posted online at www.whistlercup.com.