It's no secret that participation in cross-country skiing is increasing. Mountain bikers are taking up the sport as a way to stay fit in the off-season, while a greater offering of programs is getting more adults and kids into the sport. The addition of Thursday night races through the winter added a social element that the sport was missing.
But the biggest factor driving people to the sport is the Olympics, and what Whistler Olympic Park represents to cross-country clubs throughout the Lower Mainland.
"With Whistler Olympic Park the clubs are working together for the first time and meeting there, clubs from Whistler and Pemberton, from Vancouver, the new club in Squamish," said Tom Barratt, president of the Whistler Nordics. "It has provided a focus for us all, a place to have clinics and events. There's a lot more rubbing of shoulders and cross-fertilization of the club and a sharing of resources.
"And when you have the top people in the sport coming into Squamish and Whistler and helping out, and national development teams out there sharing their sport, it can't help but contribute significantly to the development of the sport and the club."
The addition of a full-time coach, Maria Lundgren, has also played a major role in expanding the number of teaching programs for kids and adults, as well as the creation of a development program to compete at the provincial level and feed the national development programs. This is the second year for the Sea to Sky Devo team, which offered training three days a week to strong skiers for just $4 per session, and sent skiers to events through the season from Coast Cup races to the provincial championships.
Last year Lundren, formerly a member of the Swedish national team, also managed to recruit a few visiting team members from Sweden to guide a workshop for junior skiers - an opportunity that could only arise through the Whistler Olympic Park.
"That's like having Wayne Gretzky teach hockey to young athletes," said Barratt.
"We placed third in the midget championships in the province last year, which isn't something we've ever been able to do before, and that's a huge success that has caught the attention of cross-country ski organizations and Cross Country B.C."
The Olympics and Paralympics will limit access for Whistler Nordics programs this year, but Barratt says the benefits far outweigh the small inconvenience. In the meantime, he says the club will train on non-competition trails that are available at Whistler Olympic Park until the end of January, as well as trails at Callaghan Country and Lost Lake. Whistler's trail selection also got a boost this spring with the addition of a bridge over the River of Golden Dreams at Meadow Park, allowing programs to cross over and train on a flat space.