A few years ago the Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Club was mostly made up of skiers from the Lower Mainland, but in recent years that’s changed — now most of the program is filled with local kids, boys and girls mostly between the ages of 13 and 14 years old.
There’s no questioning that freestyle is cool again.
Moguls rewrote the rule book to allow inverted tricks and multiple spins, World Cup hosts put events on at night, and since then crowds have reliably numbered in the tens of thousands.
Halfpipe is officially a World Cup discipline as well, and one that Canadians dominated last year with Whistler’s Sarah Burke and Matt Hayward winning crystal globes as overall champions.
At the national and provincial level, there are also big air events that are more like slopestyle events than aerials in the range of tricks on display.
In addition to that, many of the top Canadian freeskiers, like T.J. Schiller and Josh Bibby, proudly proclaim their freestyle roots as they take on the world in events like slopestyle competitions and rail jams — and win.
According to club head coach Marc Mcdonell, registration is strong with about 50 kids this year. From that group eight are on the regional team and another six on the development team, which trains on snow a minimum of three days a week, plus time in the gym and on the trampoline. For the past two months they’ve trained twice a week at the Canadian Sports Centre Pacific gym in the Whistler Mountain Ski Club cabin, but are scaling that back to once a week to focus on the snow.
Some athletes with the club also spent a lot of time training on the water ramps and trampolines at Base II over the summer, along with a handful of pros and members of the provincial teams.
The other kids with the club train Saturdays and Sundays.
While there are the usual exchange students from Japan and skiers from the Lower Mainland, Mcdonell says more locals are taking part.
“We’ve definitely seen our membership shift a lot in the last few years,” he said. “We used to have more kids from the city, but now there are more kids from the corridor. It’s just word of mouth. Some kids who are pretty serious skiers came over to the club, and of course others come because they want to hang with their buddies.
“It’s definitely a high level program, for kids that want to spend time in the highest level park, who want to learn to do flips and spins, to use the water ramps and trampolines, and train at a little more advanced level.”
A lot of his athletes also compete in contests ranging from the local Telus Park Rider Sessions events to provincial series competitions. Mcdonell is bringing a team to competitions in Revelstoke and Big White in January, to Apex in February, to the junior nationals at Silver Star, and to the provincial championships — which the club will be hosting this year on Blackcomb, April 2-5, to celebrate its 20 th anniversary.
“It’s probably the busiest calendar we’ve had in a few years, but it’s important for some of our kids to set goals and test themselves against other clubs,” he said. “Not every mountain has a club, but it’s pretty competitive.”
Mcdonell says some of his athletes have already attracted the attention of the provincial team, although they won’t be able to move up until they are a bit older.
“That’s a stepping stone to the national team, which a few skiers are definitely thinking about,” he said.
The club was supposed to start training on opening weekend, but pushed back the start of their season to this weekend to wait for more snow. Whatever happens, they’re prepared.
“We can definitely work on flat skiing with the mogul guys, and work on technique — which isn’t a bad idea early in the season when most kids have been off skis since the summer. The mountains always have a ton of rails even if there’s not much snow, so there are things that our kids can do, and we’re hoping to have a trampoline program ready to go as well,” said Mcdonell.
Formerly the Blackcomb Freestyle Ski Team, the newly named Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Ski Club has a new website as well at www.whistlerblackcombfreestyle.com.