The size of the B.C. Ski Team has been reduced by nearly half, but Whistler's presence on the provincial alpine squad remains as strong as ever.
There will be just nine athletes on the men's and women's teams combined for this season, down from 16 last year, but skiers who got their start with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club make up more than half of the roster.
Broderick Thompson, Brodie Seger and Blake Ramsden are all returning to the men's team, while Whistler's Emma King and Pemberton's Charley Field are both back for their third seasons with the women's squad.
Patrick Carry (Calgary), Martin Grasic (Invermere) and Dominic Unterberger (Revelstoke) round out the men's roster, while Alix Wells (Prince George) is the other lone female.
Johnny Crichton has taken over as head coach of the program, bringing with him several years of experience coaching Canadian skiers at the World Cup level. Whistler's Nick Cooper is working directly with the men's group and fellow assistant coach J.P. Daigneault will be helping with the women's team.
"The coaches before me did a great job, so it's pretty easy to walk into this group and start out with a bunch of really mature and fast ski racers," said Crichton.
The men's and women's teams will be spending more time on the road together than in previous years, which Crichton expects to reduce costs and logistical challenges. Field said there are advantages in training as well.
"I love it," she said. "It's really great to be able to ski with the boys and be pushed even further and be able to chase them every single time down the hill trying to get closer to them."
All of the skiers are entering at least their second season on the B.C. Ski Team, but the smaller team for this year makes it an even closer-knit group, which has its benefits.
"That's one of our biggest strengths as a team, the fact that we're all so close," Seger said Tuesday, Nov. 26 from Colorado, where he and Thompson were participating in the first Nor-Am Cup races of the winter. "We all work off each other and it helps us push the limits."
Added Thompson: "Every run is a competition between us six and that really helps us improve."
The race fields for this week's Nor-Am technical races at the Loveland Ski Area were as deep as they come on the minor circuit. Whistler's Mike Janyk was on the podium for both slalom races held during the four-race set, to give an example of the calibre, so the results were tough to come by for Thompson and Seger this week. But both said they're feeling good about the way they've been skiing after more than 40 days on snow in the offseason.
Thompson, 19, is in his fourth year with the B.C. team and has been appointed captain for the season. He's hopeful to pass on what experience he can to his teammates through the winter.
"It's a change from being the youngest for the last couple years to the oldest," he said. "I've definitely learned a lot over the years skiing with Sasha Zaitsoff and Conrad Pridy and Morgan Pridy."
Ramsden is currently at Lake Louise, where he is expected to be a forerunner for the World Cup races being held this weekend.
For skiers on both the men's and women's teams, the season goals are wide-ranging — from scoring points in Nor-Am races to qualifying for the Junior World Ski Championships and ultimately getting a boot in the door with the national team program.
With her sights set on the next level, Field said she's feeling some pressure to perform this winter.
"It's kind of a make-or-break year, I think," said Field, who's hosting a fundraiser at the Pemberton Legion on Saturday, Nov. 29 starting at 6 p.m.
"I want to make sure I can take that next step and prove to myself that I can push and keep going further in this sport."
That would be just fine with Crichton, who hopes each of the skiers working under him can keep progressing and catch the attention of Alpine Canada brass.
"I'd like to not see any of them back here next year," he laughed. "I want to move them all up to the national team, is what I mean by that."
Whistler product Ford Swette, who's now skiing with Alpine Canada's development team after graduating from the B.C. Ski Team, was also involved in the men's Nor-Am races at Loveland. He posted top-20 finishes in both giant slalom events, including a 13th-place result on Nov. 23.