As the head coach of the B.C. Disabled Ski Team, Whistler's Phil Chew has worked with many of the athletes representing Canada in the Paralympic alpine events.
A former Paralympian himself, Chew has watched some of the athletes progress from a young age, or from their first time back on skis since an injury, and says they all have something in common.
"I travel around the province putting on these camps called Building Our Best, going to all the local mountains," he said. "We go to Vernon, Silver Star, Mt. Washington, the Lower Mainland mountains and up here in Whistler, and we invite all the local disabled athletes out. We spend the first day fixing up their skiing and the next we introduce them to gates. We show some video, do talks, let them meet with athletes, show them how to wax their skis and all that kind of stuff, and we get a good look at the talent that's out there."
The most promising skiers are invited to a three-day "Building Excellence" camp in Whistler at the end of the season, which Chew and Mike Clark from the national development team coach. The top athletes from that camp are invited to the B.C. Disabled Ski Team.
"We're looking for certain types of athletes for the B.C. team," said Chew. "They have to have some athletic ability and they have to be really trying."
The B.C. team currently has 12 members, all of whom have a goal of one day representing Canada at a Paralympics. They compete in NorAm Cup events around North America and train long hours just to have a shot at making the team.
Currently, five members of the national team are Chew's former students - Matt Hallat, Morgan Perrin, Sam Danniels, Josh Dueck and Andrea Dziewior. Several other members are B.C. residents, including Lauren Woolstencroft, Karolina Wisniewska and Kimberley Joines, which means over half of the alpine athletes are B.C.-based.
Chew says the B.C. connection makes sense when you consider the terrain of the province, as well as the focus on athletics. More importantly, B.C. is the province of Terry Fox and Rick Hansen, two of the best-known disabled athletes in the world.
Every skier has had very different experiences leading up to selection to the Paralympic team.
Take Sam Danniels, the most recent athlete to make the cut. He's competing in the downhill and super G sit ski category.
"He was with us for three years and part of last year when he started to train a little with the national development squad," said Chew. "Then he kept his points low enough to qualify for the downhill at the World Cup finals (in Whistler) last year and came in fourth against 50 pretty good skiers that were there.