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Ski club taking advantage of early opening

Racers could hit slopes next weekend

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With Whistler-Blackcomb getting an early jump on the ski season by opening this weekend, the Whistler Mountain Ski Club is tentatively looking to do the same.

The club will host its annual dinner and auction in Vancouver this Saturday, as planned, but coaches will be back in Whistler on Sunday.

"We’re going to send a reconnaissance mission up on Sunday to check it out, so this weekend we’re not going to start any training, but if everything checks out we’re going to accelerate our programs for the next week," said WMSC program director Nigel Cooper.

"What usually happens is we leave opening weekend as a buffer so we’ll know what’s what, and try to get up the following weekend. This year is really no different, except that it’s two to three weeks earlier, which is great."

The younger kids in the program will benefit the most, he added.

"It will benefit the kids who haven’t had a lot of snow time, more than the kids who have had a lot already, the kids that have been to Chile and Europe to train," said Cooper. "Those kids will be looking for the same kind of consistent, hard snow they’ve seen, so we will still send some camps to Panorama and Nakiska for early season training.

"For the other kids (being open) will save us a lot of money and a lot of travel time. When we do go away to train they’ll each have an extra three to five days of skiing under their belts, which will be a huge benefit."

Despite the potential for an earlier start, Cooper says the club is ready to start the season with most of the key staff members returning from the previous year.

Registration is also strong, with more older skiers returning than the club has seen in the past.

"It’s a big group this year, the top end of our age group keeps getting larger and larger, which I think is a show of the positive things that are happening for younger ages – kids are staying in the sport longer, which is good," said Cooper.

"A lot of growth and development as skiers doesn’t happen until later, and some kids don’t start to show their full potential until the mid-to-late teens, so it’s great to see so many kids that are 16 and 17 and 18. It’s fine to predict that an 11-year-old is going to be great, but when you see that potential in a 17-year-old it’s even better."

Another positive for the club this year is the fact that Whistler was chosen to host the Pontiac GMC Canadian Championships. That doesn’t guarantee the WMSC more quota spots, but seeing the top Canadian skiers in action will be positive for the younger skiers.

"For the 11 to 14-year-olds to be able to see that first-hand, it’s going to be huge. That’s where legends come from – a kid sees Thomas Grandi in an event like this, and that experience never goes away," said Cooper.

"We’re involved quite heavily in putting the championships on, so there will be lots of chances for our athletes to see all the big names up close."

The Whistler Mountain Ski Club is also working with the Alpine Canada Alpin, the national organization for alpine skiing, B.C. Alpine, Whistler-Blackcomb and the Vancouver Organizing Committee to secure a lasting legacy from the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

They are not sure what it will look like, but it will be a dedicated training centre for ski racers.

"We’re part of a group that is helping to piece together what the legacy will be," said Cooper. "For us the legacy is to have excellent snowmaking, training slopes and grooming leading up to and after the Olympics that are designated for alpine ski racing.

"I think it’s going to happen, and that it will be a part of the places that are going to be the warm-up areas and training areas for the Olympics.

"We always have a challenge finding hard snow, so it will be good to have a place, probably on Whistler Mountain, where we can warm up and run training and that’s a refuge for us down the road.

"We don’t need anything special – we just need a dedicated training space. A lot of places on the mountain are dedicated for parks and pipes, for skiers and snowboarders, but there’s not always somewhere for ski racing."

There are still tickets available for the ski club’s annual dinner and auction in Vancouver. For more information visit www.whistlermountainskiclub.com.

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