There are many milestones in a racer's progression from the club level to the World Cup circuit, and for the past 16 years one of the most significant milestones for Canadian athletes has been the Whistler Cup juvenile ski races.
For many skiers now competing for Canada at an international level the Whistler Cup was their first taste of international competition, as well as a chance to test themselves against the top racers their own age in the rest of Canada.
Some of the alumni from the race include siblings Mike and Britt Janyk, World downhill champion John Kucera, Manuel Osborne-Paradis, Genevieve Simard, Kelly VanderBeek, Emily Brydon, and Erik Guay. International alumni include U.S. overall World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn, Austria's Benjamin Raich and Nicole Hosp, Americans Sarah Schleper and Julia Mancuso, Italy's Denis Karbon, Sweden's Anja Paerson, and Slovenia's Tina Maze.
This weekend, April 10 to 12, marks the 17 th annual Whistler Cup race. Both K1 (age 11 to 12) and K2 (age 13 to 14) athletes take part. Twenty nations are sending athletes to compete, bringing the total number of racers taking part to close to 400. Visiting nations are Andorra, Australia, Caymen Islands, Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, Russian Federation, Spain, Slovak Republic, the U.S. and U.S. Virgin Islands.
The economic crisis has had an impact on the field. Some of the nations that have competed in past year but elected not to compete this year include Austria, Germany, Norway and Sweden.
The race itself got off to a rocky start this year with the loss of key sponsors in the economic downturn. The federal government stepped up in December with $50,000 to helps cover the cost of accommodation and food for visiting athletes, as well as other expenses.
Of the almost 300 Canadian athletes taking part, some will be representing their country as members of the official national team, while others will be representing their home provinces and clubs. The top athletes picked to represent Team Canada have been training all week at the Iris "Vision to the Top" ski camp, where they have been training with national level coaches in a high performance program similar to the national team's.
The weekend kicked off with a welcome dinner on Wednesday, followed by training and race hill inspection on Thursday.
Racing gets underway on Friday, April 10 with the K2 super G and K1 slalom taking place. The K1 giant slalom and K2 slalom are on Saturday, and the K1 Kombi/K2 GS wrap up the event on Sunday.
The super G and GS races will be staged on Raven and Ptarmigan runs, while the slalom and Kombi are on the Upper Dave Murray.
The final awards ceremony is on the mainstage in Skier's Plaza, base of Whistler, at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.
For more information visit www.whistlercup.com.