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Athletic performances you won’t want to miss

Re: Second to none (Pique feature, March 15)

It was with great interest and appreciation that I read Pique’s cover story by Clare Ogilvie, with insight provided by B.C.’s Disabled Alpine Ski Team coach, Phil Chew. Those of us who ski and/or snowboard on either or our two local mountains know only too well what fine alpine adaptive and race programs exist here in Whistler, thanks to the many volunteers and the experienced coaching provided racers by our three-time Paralympian, “Chewy”.

Late Thursday afternoon, March 15, I was returning home to Whistler after having spent the past seven days announcing the IPC World Cup Nordic and biathlon races. While shopping the “Second to none” cover on the Pique caught my eye. I have to second the headline because I had just experienced watching “some of the most incredible athletes in the world” compete in Nordic and biathlon events hosted by Mount Washington’s Nordic Centre and the Strathcona Nordic Ski Club, Courtenay Biathlon Association, and the Vancouver Island Society for Adaptive Snowsports, with the help of 300 volunteers from the Comox Valley and from ski clubs from many parts of B.C.

This IPC World Cup at Mount Washington was a chance for more than a dozen of the strongest Nordic and biathlon countries to send their best Paralympic athletes, coaches and wax technicians to ski and shoot in conditions similar to what they might expect in the Callaghan Valley in March 2010. Yes, it rained, snowed heavily — and the final three days were bluebirds with very fast snow.

One of the most important aspects of this World Cup was that it was held in Canada, staged by British Columbians — and the Canadian team took full advantage of the home course and local knowledge to earn a dozen podium spots. In that regard it was similar to what is taking place on the Dave Murray Downhill at the moment in the Canadian Alpine Championships on Whistler Mountain.

The Callaghan Valley will provide, based on my experience at Mount Washington, intense, competitive, highly entertaining and exciting world class IPC competition. For example, the picture on page 53 of the March 15 Pique: The McKeever bothers, Robbin guiding his visually impaired brother Brian. Examine that picture closely. Brian is on Robbin’s ski tails, tip-to-tail skate ski racing in perfect unison. Robbin told me that the flats and climbing sections on a cross-country course are not too bad for the guide and for his visually impaired skier, however, the steeper downhills and corners require an entirely elevated level of trust between guide and skier. The guide is a coach, tactician, confidant and cheerleader during a race and he/she must be able to ski the course and stay in front of the skier. The guides are therefore awarded medals if their skiers reach the podium — they ski as a team. To achieve the level of excellence the McKeevers have reached — IPC World Cup champions — requires thousands of training hours on snow and a level of absolute trust under flat-out race conditions.

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