The Whistler Valley Snowboard Club (WVSC) is unique in Canada in establishing a professional approach to a sport that once had a reputation of being anti-establishment.
At its inception, it was a weekend camp where locals and regulars who wanted to improve their skills could get training from a new breed of snowboard coaches that had both competitive experience and coaching credentials. Some of their coaches over the years have worked with athletes at the World Cup level.
The program has built on that base, nudging their more talented athletes towards competitions and pro contracts. They have alumni in the snowboard magazines and on the national team.
Recently, founder and operator Rob Picard started a billeting program, putting hand-picked athletes in a house where they train every day while going to Whistler Secondary part-time or taking correspondence high school courses. This year the program is full with 10 kids on his roster.
“We actually turned quite a bit of business away this year, but we’re pretty selective who we accept,” explained Picard. “We want kids that are competitive, that work hard and are serious about improving their skills and taking their riding to the next step, but also mature enough to get their classwork done.
“We have kids from Ontario, Edmonton, Calgary, and one fellow from Australia.”
Most of the kids were on the mountain for opening day, although they are spending a lot more time in the gym since the program was recognized by the Canadian Sport Centre Pacific, and given clearance to train in the gym at Whistler Mountain Ski Club.
One day Picard hopes to launch an academy program, possibly with the ski club that would be based out of the Cheakamus Crossing athletes’ village, but he says it will be a while before any decisions can be made by the major stakeholders.
In recent years the WVSC has also increased its focus on competitions for all members, from local events like the Telus Park Rider Sessions to provincial and national events that can qualify athletes to compete at the World Cup level. This year Picard also wants his athletes in more pro competitions. For example, they will be getting in some training at the Olympic halfpipe and snowboardcross venues once they open, to get ready for World Cup selection events.
“We’re trying to get into the Burton Open, we’re going to send a crew to the (Empire) Shakedown, and we’re even contemplating sending a team to the U.S. Open,” said Picard. “We’ll also do the regular contest series in Grouse and Seymour, and as many B.C. Snowboard Association events as we can get to, and most of the local events. We had athletes who were second and third in the Showcase Showdown last year, Andrew Balharry and Robbie Balharry, and they’re both back this year and ready to ride. It’s nice having kids retuning that want to push themselves, and get in all the coaching and training they can.”
Athletes train in both Olympic disciplines, halfpipe and snowboardcross, although the biggest emphasis has been on park riding and the backcountry — skills that sponsors are looking for. Most of all, Picard wants well-rounded athletes that are comfortable on all terrain, and encourages his riders to enter competitions like the local Atomic Cross races for the experience.
“We’ve been very lucky, we’ve had some great kids over the years come through this program and some kids who started with us as groms are actually at the level where they’re winning provincial events,” he said. “Everyone is keen, working hard on dryland training, and excited for the winter.”