Sea to Sky will be well represented on the Ski Cross World Cup circuit this year with three Whistler athletes and one Squamish athlete named to the team on Wednesday. In total the travelling team will feature 12 athletes, some of whom were with the team last year and some of whom are new additions, if not new to the sport.
The goal for the team is to win events, and qualify athletes to compete at home in 2010. Only 35 men and women will race ski cross in 2010, and each country can send a maximum of four men and women to compete based on the number of quota spots they earn. Because ski cross currently falls under the freestyle banner, and each country is limited to 18 athletes in all three freestyle events — moguls, aerials, and ski cross — it’s going to be tight. Of all the snow sports, freestyle is where Canada is strongest, having won the overall Nations Cup the past three years.
“What we have to do is ski fast, every opportunity we get,” said Andrew Squires, the spokesperson for the team and sometimes the ski tech. “World Cup will be a big focus for us, we’re going to travel to every single one. If we ski the way we know we can, that will keep us strong in the selection.”
Ski cross is also the new kid on the block. This is the team’s second season after it was hastily assembled on short notice in 2007 after VANOC and the International Olympic Committee confirmed the inclusion of the sport in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
But while the team has just two seasons to prepare, many of the skiers have already been competing on the pro circuit with success. According to Squires, the challenge was less about recruiting than molding the athletes into the world’s best.
“Basically we’ve stuck with our team from last year, because it’s such a strong team,” said Squires. “There were a few athletes that were on the bubble, but we’ll travel with 12 skiers this year.”
From Whistler, the team includes veterans Davey Barr and Ashleigh McIvor, as well as newcomers Julia Murray and Brian Bennett, who raced with the team last year. The team also recently added Aleisha Cline, who was the most dominant racer on the pro circuit with numerous wins at X-Games and other pro events before she took a break to start a family in Squamish.
The rest of the team includes Kelsey Serwa from Kelowna, Canadian champions Chris Del Bosco and Anik Demers-Wild, Stanley Hayer, Brady Leman, Cam Culbert and Dave Duncan. Nick Zoricic also qualified but may not travel with the team.
The schedule is also fairly intense, starting from the first World Cup race in St. Johann, Austria on Jan. 5. There are races in France on Jan. 10-12 and Jan. 14, a race at Lake Placid Jan. 18-19, and races in Switzerland and France on Jan. 24 and Jan. 31. From there the tour comes to Canada for a World Cup/Olympic test event at Cypress Mountain, Feb. 5-8, then breaks for almost two weeks before heading to Norway, Sweden, Japan for the World Championships, then back to Switzerland for the World Cup finals on March 12. That’s 11 events in roughly two and a half months, with six events alone in the month of January.
Squires says there is a real team feeling already, as athletes met for several dryland training camps over the summer and then moved on to the Farnham Glacier outside of Invermere to get in some on-snow training on a purpose-built course.
“The skiers just got a tonne of runs in there, and CODA (Calgary Olympic Development Association) was just phenomenal in setting up an amazing course for us and accommodating the team,” said Squires. “It was such a good spot because of the seclusion of it, there was no distraction and everyone was focused. There’s nothing to squander your attention, you literally eat, sleep and drink your profession.”
The team is slowly picking up corporate sponsorship, although most of the team’s funding comes from Own The Podium 2010. Strong results last season also enabled several of the athletes to qualify for their own Sport Canada funding.
Since funding is based on success, according to Squires the team is doing well.
“The veterans have been very supportive of the newer skiers. Just look at Julia Murray’s results in her first year, and how she steadily stepped it up until she got on a podium,” said Squires. “Even veterans like Davey Barr never placed as highly as they did last season. Stanley Hayer is one of the best, and he had his best season ever. Having coaches, ski techs, funding to get to the events, training camps, and teammates to push each other is helping the athletes to get better.”