While national sports federations have been busy creating a national organization for ski cross, clubs like the Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WMSC) and Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Club have been working to take the sports down to the grass roots.
This year the WMSC will help to coordinate a provincial ski cross program, using the ski club coaches and facilities. At the same time they will also develop a club ski cross program that will see members train and compete at the provincial and national level.
“About five years ago we had something called Junior X here, which was our first attempt to do something for the kids who are 15 and older and were not going to continue with ski racing,” said Nigel Cooper, program director for the WMSC. “It was another avenue to keep those kids involved, with ski cross and big mountain skiing, but we didn’t get the support we wanted in the form of liability — the coaches federation and Alpine Canada were not interested in representing the sport, and we got into a situation where we didn’t feel covered and dropped the program.”
Through Pacific Sport and both the national and provincial freestyle associations, the WMSC will launch a provincial team this season. Jordan Williams, a veteran ski race coach for the WMSC, will lead the provincial program as well as work with WMSC skiers interested in ski cross at the club level. The B.C. team will have its own funding and resources, but Cooper says the WMSC is committed to supporting the program.
“Right now we’re only waiting for Jordan to get a plan together for the provincial program, because what we want to do with the club program is that different,” said Cooper. “It’s not that the provincial program is going to be in such a stratosphere in its first year that our club team will not be able to keep up, and I’ll expect that our athletes will be racing in the same events.
“We’ve been in the business of ski racing for a lot of years, and we know how to make kids go fast. We’ve developed mechanisms at every level of ski racing, and while ski cross is a slightly different format we really look at it as another discipline of alpine. Almost every ski cross racer at the international level started out as a ski racer.”
Most importantly, ski cross now has the support of the coaches federation and Alpine Canada, making it possible to insure coaches and the club. Part of the reason for the reluctance to back the sport before is its dangerous reputation.
Better course designs and safety features are making races safer, but Cooper says the best way to make the sport safe is to train kids properly.
“We’ve always supported ski cross events in town, and when our kids are at those events we’re usually pretty strong,” he said. “If kids train properly and progress in the right manner, then it’s no more dangerous than slalom, GS, super G or downhill.
“The biggest challenge is to get more facilities. There is a course in Whistler and a new one in Cypress, and it takes resources to maintain the course to a certain degree. More courses would help to develop the sport, and increased safety is paramount to that happening. Right now we’d love to get the word out that there is ski cross in this valley. It’s always been here, but we’ve never been in a position where we’ve had freestyle support, snowboarding support, and where we’ve been able to give it our full support as well.”
Details about the provincial program should be announced in the next few weeks, followed by details on the WMSC’s club program. Cooper says everything should be in place by the time the mountains open for the season.