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National Freestyle Training Centre at WB makes strides

Club angling to build moguls run on Catskinner



A few bumps still remain, but the project to create a National Training Centre for moguls athletes on Blackcomb Mountain has cleared some of the greatest obstacles.

In a release on Jan. 31, the Whistler-Blackcomb Freestyle Ski Club and the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association announced they would team up to build a National Training Centre on Blackcomb Mountain. Plans call for the facility to be located on the Catskinner ski run.

The project will allow training and competitions to be held on-site, with the facility being built in line with FIS criteria. An air bag site will also be built.

Organizers are now looking for the cash to make the project a reality, and are seeking sponsors and donors to purchase naming rights opportunities at the facility. If all goes well, construction could begin this summer, with completing earthwork, installing snowmaking and electrical infrastructure, and making a permanent judges' stand among the top priorities.

Whistler-Blackcomb Freestyle Ski Club vice-president Julia Smart said the wheels have been in motion for a few years now, but it's only been in the past year that a "passionate team" took a keen interest in pushing to make the dream a reality.

"It's taken awhile to get to this point, so we feel like we've made a leap forward," Smart said. "It's a club initiative. It started out with members of the club that put together a small subcommittee called FLIP (Freestyle Legacy Improvement Plan).

"We started to have more detailed conversations with Whistler Blackcomb last year, and went up for some site inspections. We paid for various surveys to be done on the mountain."

Smart said the project won't come cheaply.

"We have to do quite a bit of grading work in order to get that run up to FIS specifications to build the type of training centre that will work for all levels of skiers, from the club level all the way to national and international skiers," she said. "It will be a considerable sum just to do the earthwork and put in all the infrastructure we need on the mountain."

CFSA CEO Bruce Robinson said the national organization has participated in talks with Whistler Blackcomb to help provide the local team with a little extra clout in negotiations. It is also looking to help support WBFC in its goal of reaching a half-million dollars in fundraising, though the CFSA does not have any funds to commit to the project at this point.

"The CFSA is supporting the Whistler-Blackcomb Freestyle (Ski) Club to help them find the money to build this centre," Robinson said. "They're looking for a substantial amount of money, $500,000.

"At this point in time, it's up to the local club to meet the fundraising and find the money."

Smart noted there is a reason the club is inclined to place the facility along Catskinner, as it will add to the freestyle infrastructure already in place on Blackcomb.

"It was definitely a favourite of the club because it's located right next to the park. Our skiers could do a couple of hits in the park then ski over and ski the bumps and then ski the park a bit," Smart said. "It was a good location to have it right next door to the other disciplines."

Citing the strong results of Quebec skiers who have a training facility in their province, the organizations hope to boost the sport on the west coast. The bulk of Canada's moguls stars are from Quebec with three-time World Cup champion Mikaël Kingsbury and the Dufour-Lapointe sisters, who teamed up to win gold (Justine) and silver (Chloé) at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, all hailing from La Belle Province.

"We need to have great facilities across this country from end to end," Robinson said. "Having a FIS-level competition course, having an air bag facility, having small jumps will help the development of freestyle skiers in B.C. and in the Sea to Sky Corridor.

"It will become an important development place for our athletes, particularly the athletes that are looking at '22 and '26 after (PyeongChang, South) Korea."

Whistler Blackcomb spokesperson Lauren Everest said in a prepared statement that since not every 'i' has been dotted and not every 't' crossed, the mountain is keeping comment to a minimum.

Everest wrote in the statement: "The Canadian Freestyle Ski Association is currently in discussions with Whistler Blackcomb to open a new National Training Centre on Blackcomb Mountain. At this time there is no official agreement between Whistler Blackcomb and the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association for the project. Whistler Blackcomb prides itself on being a training ground for athletes and future Olympians. While excited about the project, Whistler Blackcomb will refrain from commenting further until an official agreement is in place."

Facility would help young skiers

Local skiers will be hitting the slopes in competition at Whistler Blackcomb this weekend during the BC Freestyle Ski Timber Tour and Super Youth Challenge's second stop of the year from Feb. 6 to 9.

"We wanted to have a more challenging run for the moguls skiers, but unfortunately it hasn't got enough snow as of yesterday (Jan. 31)," Smart said on Feb. 1. "We'll see what happens during the week, but I don't think it's going to be deep enough.

"That's another reason for us to push forward with an event site that will work in the future for all levels of competition."

The event is open to skiers aged seven through 19 and will feature over 200 up-and-coming competitors in moguls, slopestyle and big air. Spectators are welcome and encouraged.

Feb. 6 is set aside as an unofficial training day, while Feb. 7 will see moguls competition held on Lower White Light on Blackcomb Mountain and the slopestyle event going in the Whistler Terrain Park. Feb.8's schedule includes slopestyle at Blackcomb Terrain Park and moguls at Lower White Light, while the weekend will conclude with big air competitions in Blackcomb Terrain Park (Timber Tour) and Lower White Light (super youth).

Action begins at 10 a.m. each day, running until about 3 or 3:30 p.m., depending on the weather.

Smart explained the project is important now because young freestyle skiers are on the rise in the Sea to Sky corridor, and, ideally, opening the new facilities would coincide with their ongoing upward arcs.

"If you want to build really good, competitive skiers, you need to have a place where they can train effectively and train to a similar level to all the other kids their age across the country," she said. "(When) we compare (ourselves) to what other resorts are doing and the facilities that they have, we have been lacking.

"Apart from having this massively wonderful mountain, we haven't been able to have one place where we've been able to train consistently.

"We've been moved around a fair bit in the past."


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