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National Training Centre a go for Blackcomb

Local club inks agreement with WB, CFSA to create moguls runs



It's easy to look around and see the Olympic effect in the resort.

Monuments of the interlocking rings are easy to find, of course, and the Whistler Sliding Centre and Whistler Olympic Park are regularly buzzing with activity.

But freestyle skiers and their supporters, admittedly, felt left out. Cypress Mountain was chosen to host freestyle events in 2010 and thus received the legacies.

If the Olympics wasn't going to bring anything for freestyle skiing, a group of Whistlerites decided, they'd just have to do it themselves.

Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Ski Club (WBFSC) secretary Julia Smart was one of the visionaries. Though some strong athletes were coming to train on the temporary moguls here, she stressed it would be ideal in the long term to create a permanent installation.

"Many teams already do come here and train at different times of the year but there really wasn't a permanent facility left, a legacy left like the other sports have after the Olympics," she said. "Freestyle, unfortunately, despite winning so many medals and doing so well in 2010, the circumstances just didn't allow us to have a facility. We said, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could create something like that and create it here in Whistler?'"

After years of blood, sweat and tears figuring out the feasibility and the logistics of bringing permanent moguls to the resort, it paid off on Dec. 21. Whistler Blackcomb (WB) announced that along with the WBFSC and Canadian Freestyle Ski Association (CFSA), it had partnered up to make the dream a reality.

David Krasny's son, Carter, was a freestyle skier back in 2010 when the hopes first started percolating, but has since moved on to other activities. Krasny, however, is insistent Whistler should have the moguls built here and remained involved with the movement, inspired by memories of his son's earlier days in the sport.

"We were going to lots of the smaller resorts and they had better moguls facilities than we did. It didn't take a lot to scratch your head," he said. "We've got the longest ski season in North America and we can take advantage of something like a legacy.

"When we saw that we missed that, we realized that we just had to go out and get it another way."

Other major grassroots contributors, Krasny noted, included Scott Cordell, Mick Gannon and Rick Schwinghammer.

Smart explained there were a number of skiing demographics that the club wanted to hit, making just the right spot difficult but necessary to find. The centre will be located on Blackcomb on Upper Catskinner next to the Nintendo Terrain Park.

"We wanted to find a venue that would work for all the different levels of the sport from our entry level, the young kids at the Freestylerz and Freestyle Ski Club levels to the World Cup skiers and international teams," she said. "We realized having a venue right next to the terrain park would be an incredible location because we have a world-class, incredible terrain park on Blackcomb.

"Having a hub where we have a moguls course as well as an airbag will mean that all the disciplines can come use it in one location."

WB's director of mountain operations Doug MacFarlane recalled the process of determining the site as being rigorous, with spots on both mountains initially being considered. He added that Upper Catskinner will need to be widened to make the course fit, and WB will help out in the construction phase.

"We zeroed in on Blackcomb a couple years ago through numerous on-mountain meetings and laying out various maps and trying to figure out the grades and the width they need to try to find a fit," MacFarlane said. "We'll help them build the course itself and bring in the other facilities, (like) a landing pad and a takeoff for the airbag training area.

"It'll be the construction component first and then working with them to help deliver. We often help them with our snow cats to build mogul courses, build jumps for the airbags."

The centre received a major kickstart from the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, which granted $300,000 to the project. Smart said the club would need to match those funds at a minimum, and hopes to raise more to create the centre of their dreams.

"It's a huge project to build a course and to do all the excavation work and put all the bells and whistles with a permanent judges stand," she said. "Ideally, we'd like to raise enough funds to put in a snowmaking machine."

If adequate funds are raised, construction will begin in the spring and the centre will open in time for next winter.

Krasny explained the club's prime fundraising mechanism is selling the naming rights to the facility — ideally to a private citizen or family to avoid any potential sponsorship conflicts with Whistler Blackcomb.

"We have to go find someone who wants to have their name attached to the centre," he said. "Whistler Blackcomb has been kind enough to give us naming rights that we can leverage to find that sponsor.

"We're looking for $625,000 to take us to the next level. Someone can have their name attached to every map, every website map, every printed map and just a few hundred metres away from the top of the Solar Coaster lift, there could be a sign."

Once the centre opens, Krasny said, even bigger things could be expected from the Canadians in years to come. Mikaël Kingsbury set the career mark for moguls wins earlier this month, proving himself to royalty among a long line of Quebec-based competitors. If the West Coast starts to take on some more of the responsibility, he reasons, the Great White North could assert itself long-term.

"We've got the top athletes here and if we can get them to focus their training, especially from a young age but across all ages, we're probably going to generate a ton of Olympians in the way that Quebec does in the freestyle ski disciplines," he said.

CFSA CEO Bruce Robinson said the organization thinks highly of Whistler and the resort is a big part of its future plans.

"(The centre) will hopefully encourage more kids to participate in the sport," he said. "The other thing that it provides for us is an International Ski Federation site for moguls so if we want to run FIS events, it's possible to do that and certainly access other events like NorAm Cup level events, national championships, it'll be perfect."

While some moguls team members and up-and-comers hail from Western Canada, such as Penticton's Andi Naude, Robinson feels confident about the region's ability to produce more upper-echelon competitors.

"We already have some good moguls skiers from the west," he said. "We're seeing more athletes being very competitive from B.C. across the national level and I foresee more athletes from the B.C. program moving up to the national ski team."


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