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Western Canadians coming to Whistler Olympic Park

Top cross-country skiers to descend on the resort

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Some Whistler cross-country skiers are looking to win the west on home soil.

With the Haywood NorAm Western Canadian Cross-Country Ski Championships coming to Whistler Olympic Park this weekend, young competitors like Michael Murdoch and Joe Davies are looking to show what they can do against some of the country's best.

"It's always exciting to be part of a bigger race like this, especially when it's right in my backyard," Davies said. "We've had a lot of snow this year, so the conditions are really great at the moment. It's one of my favourite places."

The weather, which was cooperative early in the season, could be turning and changing conditions for the worse.

Still, Murdoch is excited to welcome skiers to the region, though he hopes to have a little home park advantage.

"I love racing in Whistler. It's too bad that it's supposed to rain this week. I've always had pretty good success here, especially with a big race like this with a couple of my favourite events there, it should be pretty good," he said.

Event chair Margot Murdoch explained Callaghan Valley Cross-Country, which is made up of six smaller clubs in the Sea to Sky corridor, put in a bid for the event and is thrilled for the opportunity to run it.

"It's great to see Whistler Olympic Park continue its legacy of hosting higher-end events. It's a challenge for us all the time to find people who are interested in organizing these races from our area, so it's nice that we're making a big effort in keeping cross-country skiing alive in the Olympic venue," she said. "It's being used for what it was intended to."

There will be plenty of racing this Jan. 20 to 22, as in addition to the Western Canadians, there will be Teck Coast Cup races as well.

"Two of our clubs, Whistler Nordics being one of them and Spud Valley out of Pemberton (the other), often host Coast Cups at this time of the year. Our own individual clubs thought we'd have a hard time hosting Westerns one weekend and then having a Coast Cup weekend the weekend after, so we combined it," Margot Murdoch said. "It's a huge undertaking because you get all age groups from atoms all the way up the masters categories, so it makes for three really long days."

Murdoch said registration numbers had passed the goal of 400 before early-bird sign-ups closed last week and more were expected to pledge attendance before the final cutoff. Though the bulk of competitors are coming from B.C. and Alberta, there are still a fair number who will make their way from the prairie provinces and northwestern Ontario as well as northern centres like Yellowknife and Whitehorse.

Michael Murdoch, who devoted his summer to cross-country training like roller skiing and running, feels confident heading into the event, as he picked up NorAm gold medals in Vernon and Rossland in December.

"This year, I've been training a lot harder than the last couple years that I've been racing. I have a new coach, Chris Manhard, who's really been helping me out with the mental and physical aspects of the courses and racing," he said. "I can really get into the zone and push over my max. I push and go as fast as I can."

The week after Westerns, Murdoch will attend the Eastern Canadians in Cantley, Que.

Davies, meanwhile, also comes in on a roll after earning NorAm podiums last month.

"I want to come out with something I can be happy with. At the bigger races, it's harder to tell how you're going to do," he said.

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