By Andrew Mitchell
For Canada’s adaptive sports athletes, the challenge has never been competing at an international level but in developing the grass roots programs across the country to ensure future generations of international competitors.
For that reason the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program created a coached para-alpine program this past winter with the goal of developing athletes for provincial level competition. That program wrapped up with a para-alpine race this past Saturday, April 21, that gave amateur athletes a chance to compete alongside some of the top Canadians — including world champions Lauren Woolstencroft and Chris Williamson.
The format for the race was giant slalom, with a course under the Emerald Express Chair on Whistler Mountain.
As the organizers hoped, some of the young skiers stood out from the crowd.
Jay Mahoney, a13-year-old visually impaired skier from Salmo, posted one of the best times of the day with the aid of his brother and guide Tyler.
Kelly Smith of the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program and Alison Hobbs of Vancouver Adaptive Snow Sports, also posted times to rival members of the national team.
Woolstencroft of the national team was the top standing woman, Chris Erfle was the top standing man, Kathleen Forestall and guide Emily Glossop won the visually impaired women’s category, Chris Williamson and guide nick rush were the top visually impaired men, Josh Dueck won the men’s sit-ski category, Mark Hopkins was fastest for men’s Cognitive Disabilities and Kyle Whitelaw won for hearing impaired. Tyler Mosher also raced solo on this snowboard after another racer backed out.
The race was supported by the Rotary Club of Whistler, Scotiabank, Whistler Mountain Ski Club, Whistler Brewing Company and Zogg’s, with volunteers from WASP, Vancouver Adaptive Snow Sports, and other organizations.
Overall, 31 athletes took part — just shy of the 40 athletes that competed in the nationals this year. That only reflects a fraction of the para-alpine skiers in Canada, according to WASP director Chelsea Walker, but she hopes to get more skiers into racing.
“We’re hoping to make this an annual event, and to keep building it,” she said. “It was great to get some members of the national team involved so athletes can see where they stack up, and maybe be inspired to do more races.
“The goal was to make it fun, give a few people their first opportunity to race with no pressure, and start building the grass roots side of the sport.”
Hosting the race during the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival also helped to draw racers, while giving the skiers more exposure. Representatives from the ski industry that happened to see the race gave the skiers everything from goggles to helmets, and are in discussions that could result in future sponsorships and support.
“Under the Emerald chair the visibility was enormous,” said Walker. “There’s so many people involved with the ski industry in town during the festival, but (they) may not have had much experience with the adaptive side of the sport and were really impressed.”