The sport of freestyle skiing got a lot bigger in recent years. Not only have the big air, halfpipe and skiercross been added to the World Cup circuit, the rules for the moguls event have been changed to allow inverted tricks and double-spins. Snowboardcross was added to the Olympics for 2006, and some feel its only a matter of time before ski halfpipe and skiercross events are added to the Games as well.
For the Blackcomb Freestyle Club, the addition of new sports has allowed the program to grow to include freeriding as well as traditional freestyle disciplines. With a winter trampoline program, a summer program including the water ramps and trampolines, and on-snow sessions throughout the winter, no other club in Canada can offer as much opportunity.
"Our big impetus now is whats happening with the sport in general," said club spokesperson and founder Don McGregor. "To me this change in the last few years towards freeriding is natural. It really gets back to the grassroots of freestyle, which is freeriding."
The club currently only has 32 members, 18 in the competitive group, but still walked away from the first provincial series competition at Apex with 14 medals. Two team members, Simon Louwe and Keltie Hicks, were also selected to represent Whistler at the Sports Illustrated Next Snow Search at Keystone, Colorado this weekend.
McGregor would like to increase the number of skiers in the program at the younger levels.
"Some kids graduate into ski racing, and others go into freeriding with the Whistler-Blackcombs Freeride Club, but no other club in Whistler can offer the same level of coaching that we can. Were in the park, were in the pipe, were doing moguls, were doing big mountain skiing," said McGregor. "Our kids are entering and winning events like the Sprite Series, and when we go to the provincial competitions theyre bringing home medals.
"A few years ago these kids would have been getting into snowboarding after a few years of skiing, but with the twin-tip skis and all of these events out there skiing is cool again. You have to learn the skills somewhere, which is where we come in."
The youngest members of the club are 9-10 years old, and the oldest are in the late teens and early 20s.
"There is a real safety aspect to the program," said McGregor. "From the very beginning the kids learn to jump properly, they learn air sense. If a kid goes in to the park, they need to have that safety to learn the skills properly and to progress. If you have the basics down, you also learn faster because you spend less time picking yourself off the ground, wondering what you did wrong."