Whistler Blackcomb may have just opened its slopes earlier this month, but the Whistler Freeride Club (WFC) has been preparing for the season for weeks with its intense dryland training regimen.
But with the mountain open and the particularly fun stuff ramping up, head coach Derek Foose said a keen group of skiers and snowboarders is getting ready to strut its stuff.
"We are at an all-time high for enrolment, which is very cool and exciting," he said. "The kids are inspiring each other to either get involved or stay involved, which I really like. We want to keep doing things that kids want to be involved with."
Foose noted the growth is coming from a couple different areas, as the club is bringing in more younger athletes than before while also retaining older athletes for longer.
The athletes will get a little home-cooking to start the season, as Whistler will host the season-opening IFSA junior regional from Jan. 4 to 6 before the schedule takes the club to Kicking Horse, Red Mountain and Revelstoke before the Junior North American Championships in April. Whistler will also host a national-level event in March.
Foose explained that sleeping in one's own bed is just one of the benefits to starting the season on home turf.
"It's such a huge thing for our kids to have those events right away. They've been training. They know the terrain," he said. "It also serves as a great introduction to competitive freeride for a lot of our young athletes who have never done it before. It's nice to do your first event at home on terrain you know.
"It's nice for our athletes to get something locked away right after Christmas ... It's still on Christmas break, so they're not missing school and they don't have to travel."
As well, in March, three local athletes will head to Kappl, Austria for the Junior World Championships, as returnee Olivia McNeill and first-timers Troy Rozsypalek and Rhys Higgins will represent Canada.
In personal news for Foose, he has been tapped to host three Freeride World Tour (FWT) broadcasts this season. In recent summers, he has cut his teeth hosting Crankworx and WB events and was thrilled to get a similar opportunity in his sport of choice.
Foose knew the FWT communications manager from competitions at Kicking Horse
"He reached out to me and said, 'I know you've been doing this mountain-bike stuff, what do you think about transferring that into the ski world?'" Foose said. "Obviously, it's flattering first of all to even be considered. From my side of things, it's the pinnacle of the sport that I've dedicated a huge chunk of my life to. It's really exciting.
"They said they were looking for a North American host and did I know anybody to fill the role? I had to think about it. Is this the situation where I say, 'I think I could do it'?"
Foose will appear on broadcasts from Kicking Horse, Fieberbrunn, Austria and Vallnord-Arcalis, Andorra, while he may be asked to return for the tour finals in Verbier, Switzerland as well. All the events are scheduled opposite junior competitions, ensuring there is minimal overlap between his two roles.
"I'm not missing any big competitions because of it. I think if the scheduling hadn't worked that way, I wouldn't have felt comfortable doing it," he said. "But I know if I'm not there, it doesn't matter. The standard of coaching is so high that if I'm not there, it's not going to make a difference."
Foose was particularly excited for the opportunity as a pair of WFC alumni, twins Tom and Liam Peiffer, will be rookies on the FWT circuit this season.
"I'll have to be careful not to favour them—or be overly critical of them, with the head coach's eye," he said.