The Callaghan Valley Training Centre was left in disarray after its second official season with no coach to lead the group. The resulting confusion and uncertainty prompted all but one of its dozen athletes to leave Whistler for other national training centres in Canmore and elsewhere. Call it growing pains.
Cross Country B.C. remained committed to the program, however, and the CVTC is here for a third season with a new coach, two committed athletes and access to an Olympic legacy they believe is second-to-none.
"I was in Newfoundland coaching the provincial team for the last four years... and then the opportunity came up to coach (with the Callaghan Valley Training Centre), which is really a once in a lifetime opportunity to be close to the Olympics and to build a new program," said Lee Churchill, a native Newfoundlander who took on the head coach position in the spring.
And while Whistler has been criticized as being a difficult environment for athletes because of the lack of affordable housing, Churchill says the year-round training opportunities are second-to-none, while the athletes' village itself will offer both short- and long-term housing for athletes after the Games - "just 15 minutes up the road from the World Class ski trails at Whistler Olympic Park, where we get to bump elbows with the best athletes in the world. Who could ask for better than that?"
Coaching in Whistler has also given Churchill a chance to meet with other sports organizations and appreciate the high level of athleticism in town. His skiers are roller skiing on local roads, biking and running on trails, in the pool and gym, and taking advantage of all the training opportunities that are available from Squamish to Pemberton, including Whistler Olympic Park.
"That's the thing about cross-country skiing, you put all those opportunities for cross-training to good use," he said.
His skiers are training seven days a week and at least twice a day on five of those days. Some of that training is solo but they get together as a team to do hill sprints with poles and roller skis and to fit in other types of training as well.
"The guys are putting in 15 to 20 hours of training a week, and that's just the physical training. We also have mental preparation, nutrition, that kind of thing."
While the program will need to attract more skiers in the future to be viable, Cross Country B.C. has committed to the program through the season. When housing becomes available Churchill expects it to be easier to attract up and coming athletes looking for a path to the national team.