Hundreds packed Whistler's Village Square as the Whistler Cup officially got under way, Friday.
Over 400 of the highest-level competitors aged 12 to 15 from 19 different nations paraded through the village before stopping in the square to celebrate the 21st Whistler Cup, presented by Rio Tinto Alcan, which has launched the ski careers of many famous World Cup stars. Athletes compete for three days in super-G, slalom and giant slalom ski racing.
Ken Read, one of the Crazy Canucks alpine ski team and more recently former director of winter sport for Own The Podium, opened the ceremonies by stressing how important the Whistler Cup event is to the development of alpine sport globally.
By way of explaining this he told the crowd that while attending a world championship event this past winter in Schladming, Austria he was introduced to gold-medal winner Marcel Hirscher.
"I said, 'pleased to meet you,' and he said, 'oh, I have met you before at the Whistler Cup,' and that athlete was Marcel Hercher who subsequently went on to not only win another gold medal, but also to win the overall world cup for the second year in a row."
Read, who is chair of the International Ski Federation's youth and children's committee, which oversees all of the children's races around the world in 18 countries, said events like Whistler Cup help development.
"This is the only one in North America, so it is very important to keep tabs on what is going on, observe how they are being organized, and then share the experiences and make sure this sport is continuing to move forward."
Canada enjoyed a stellar start to the three-day competition Friday, sweeping the U16 men's super-G podium and winning silver and bronze in ladies' U16 super-G.
Jack Crawford, from Toronto, Ont., battled damp, foggy race conditions en route to gold in the men's category, while Riley Seger of North Vancouver, B.C, took silver, and Vancouver's Sam Mulligan earned bronze.
"It's great. This is what I've been working towards most of the year," said Crawford, 15, who posted a time of one minute, 1.52 seconds. "The run started off slow out of the start gate, and I felt like it was going very poorly, but coming onto the pitch it got a lot faster and from there it felt good all the way down."
Winning on his club's home hill was especially sweet for Crawford, who skis with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club.
"It's exciting. It feels good," he said. "I've had a lot of training on the hill, so I really knew what was coming at me."
Seger, also of Whistler Mountain Ski Club, finished just six-hundredths of a second behind Crawford to take silver (1:01.58) after posting the fastest second-interval time of the day.
"It felt pretty good. I was the first racer on course, so you're not really sure what's coming at you and you can't get a course report from anyone, but it went really well," said Seger, 15, who was named to Team Canada for this year's Whistler Cup. "It was little tough to see at the bottom, but other than that I felt like it was good.
"I'd like to congratulate all my teammates and thank all the volunteers for their hard work," he added.
Sixteen-year-old Mulligan, who is also racing with Team Canada at the Whistler Cup, was third (1:02.26) after a near fall on the bottom half of the course.
"It was really fun. The course was a lot easier than I thought it would be, so I ended up going really fast, which is always good," said Mulligan, who skis with the Grouse Mountain Tyee Ski Club. "Down near the bottom I ended up getting a lot of air going around a gate, and I almost crashed, but I kept it together and I was happy with my result."
In the ladies' super-G - which was delayed intermittently for several hours due to rolling fog - Stephanie Currie of Toronto, Ont., earned silver as the top-placing Canadian (1:05:03).
Haley McKercher of Calgary, Alta., was third. The Sunshine Ski Club racer, 16, finished in 1:05.24.
Norway's Kajsa Lie Vickhoff was the ladies' super-G winner (1:04.06).
"It was really good. I had a nice start," Vickhoff said. "I've always dreamed about (a win) at the Whistler Cup."
Five other Canadian men and six additional women placed in the top 10, giving Canada 16 top-10 finishes out of a possible 20.
U14 racers also took to the slopes Friday to compete in the Kinder Kombi, which was a race that featured turns and skills from multiple racing disciplines.
In the men's U14 race, Whistler Mountain Ski Club's Kasper Woolley and Finn Iles were first (41.88) and second (42.39), respectively, and Hunter Watson, who skis with the Camp Fortune Ski Club, was third. (43.13).
In the ladies' race, Canada's Brianna MacDonald, who skis with the Osler Bluff Ski Club, took gold (42.07), while Japan's Chelsea Kumono claimed silver (42.57) and Saya Ohkoshi, also of Japan, earned bronze (42.82).
Nigel Cooper, Alpine Canada's manager of athlete development, was pleased with the Canadian contingent's results.
"As a nation, Canada did pretty good," he said. "This track is a big boys' and girls' track, so I think that familiarity with the track is really important. It's tough for some of these kids who have only had a few runs on it to gain that familiarity. Certainly we would have liked 100 more runs on the track, but we're satisfied with today given the experience we've had here.
"We have to push a little harder over the next few days to win the Whistler Cup ... we're on the way, but we want to win more," Cooper added of Canada's goal to win the overall Nations' Cup at the Whistler event.
Read, whose son Erik claimed victory in the men's slalom at the Sport Chek Alpine Canadian Championships here last month, had some words of advice for the scores of parents in the crowd as well.
"The thing we all know as parents is that our kids don't listen to us, but they do listen to coaches so make sure that they get good coaches.
"This is a learning experience, this is not the end of the road, this is not the Olympics, this is a benchmark where they get to measure themselves against the rest of the country and others internationally, but the next step in going into FIS - that is the real show.
"What is a really important (is that these kids), they will get to come back again and compete on Raven-Ptarmigan at the Dave Murray National Training Centre many, many more times in their future careers."
The Whistler Cup continues on Saturday with men's giant slalom and ladies' slalom. The final day of competition is Sunday, which features men's slalom and ladies' giant slalom and the awarding of the Nation's Cup.