Quite simply, the Sea to Sky Nordic Festival is the biggest Nordic event ever held at Whistler Olympic Park, hosting the national championships for all of the Nordic disciplines.
The event kicks off with the North American and Canadian Biathlon Championships from Mar. 15 to 20, followed by the Haywood Ski Nations (cross-country) from Mar. 23 to 30. The Aviva Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Nationals are from Mar. 28 to Mar. 30.
With age categories and para-nordic competitions there are over 100 different races taking place during the festival with 900 athletes taking part. That's more athletes and events than the Olympics held at WOP, and roughly 500 volunteers are helping to stage the competitions.
Tom Barratt, president of the Whistler Nordics, said that cooperation between clubs is key to pulling off the event.
"The Whistler Nordics are part of another umbrella club, Callaghan Valley Cross Country Club, so we can work together and pull in volunteers from other clubs for events like the Payak and nationals," he said. "It's part of the Olympic legacy."
As well, the Whistler Nordics uses municipal Community Enrichment Program grants to host courses for coaches and officials. "What we can do is supply trained people that can help handle a race like the Payak or other races like that. That's our biggest challenge, how we're going to be able to help with all of these events in the future as they pile up," he said.
"And this is huge. There's no other venue in Canada where they can host all four Nordic sports together, back-to-back. There's nowhere that has a jump, biathlon course and cross-country all in one area, Whistler Olympic Park is quite remarkable that way, and this is the first time something like this has happened."
Barrett said the nationals will also be significant for local athletes with so many different age categories available. Some athletes will be racing above their age level for the experience, while others will get to watch some of the top skiers in the world right now race.
"The next nationals (for cross-country) is in Newfoundland, and I don't know how many we're going to be sending over there for those races. This is a fantastic opportunity for our young skiers."
The past season has been groundbreaking for Biathlon Canada with Jean-Philippe Le Guellec winning a World Cup gold medal in the men's 10km sprint at the start of the season. He was the first Canadian male to step onto a World Cup podium, and the first Canadian since Myriam Bedard to podium in almost 20 years.
While Le Guellec's medal stands out, it wasn't the only highlight for the team this past season with an eighth place result in the team sprint at the world championship and Mark Arenz earning medals in para-biathlon events, including a world championship title. Other athletes have also posted personal bests.