Whistler Kids Freeride Clubs tackles the double black diamonds
Next weekend the youth members of the Whistler Kids Freeride Club will be facing off in a big mountain freeride contest tackling the face of Doom and Gloom, showing what they've learned in a competition modeled on the Canadian Freeskiing Championships. According to their coaches, they're up to the challenge.
"We have kids doing grab 360s off of cliffs, kids doing 360s in the park - some of the guys are spinning of the rails and boxes, some of the kids are doing 540s as well," said Derek Foose, the head coach and creator of the Whistler Kids Freeride Club. "It's pretty amazing. These kids are 10 to 13 years old.
"The kids today are at the same level that the best athletes were four or five years ago."
The club is in its third year, and its steadily growing in popularity. In the first year there were just six kids enrolled through Whistler-Blackcomb Ski School. Last season the club grew to 25 kids. This season the club has a roster of 35 kids and four coaches.
They spend their time in the high alpine when there's fresh snow and in the terrain park when the snow's all gone. Most of the kids are former ski racers, and have a strong grasp of fundamentals. To even be accepted by the Freeride Club, you have to have at least one year in a J4 program or the Mountain Adventure Camps under your belt.
"About three years ago I saw a gap out there between programs. A lot of kids in racing were drifting away from competitions for what ever reason. Between the Nancy Greeners and the K1 program, we were losing a lot of kids," said Foose.
"We saw there was a need for this kind of freeskiing program, to teach them some big mountain skiing techniques and the safety that goes along with it. A lot of the kids were going there anyway, but we're building an awareness of how to ski on that terrain safely.
"We teach them how to eye up a cliff jump, what a good take-off looks like, what a good landing looks like, how to stay in control - basically how to get the most out of the terrain."
Tyler Gigg, one of the club's coaches says the participants get to do a little of everything, and that the focus is to build well-rounded skiers.
"It's an opportunity to do skier cross, big mountain, terrain park - all kinds of stuff. We encourage the kids to be creative out there, and to express themselves, and try to build their passion for skiing. These kids will be skiers their whole lives."
So far the feedback has been positive from parents and skiers.
"The goal for the program is to be the program that the other hills are watching, to be very progressive, really safe, and really professional," said Gigg.
"Almost all of the parents ski and understand where we're coming from. Some of them only get to ski with their kids once and month. They come back to us and say 'Whoah, I can't keep up with my kid any more.' The parents like it when their kids come home racing at the end of the day, just ecstatic to be out there skiing."
The big mountain competition is for club members only - other mountains would have been invited if it was possible to get insurance for a freeskiing competition.
A number of sponsors are helping to get the program and contest off the ground, including Columbia, Rossignol, Smith and X-tremely Canadian. The judges will include a number of top local freeskiers, and all the participants will walk away with something.
The contest is on Sunday, Feb. 29 on Doom and Gloom, starting after 10 a.m.