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Whistler Nordics interested in Pemberton biathlon centre

PWA has already started building roads to facility at Suicide Hill

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In an effort to rebuild the Whistler Nordics Cross Country Ski Club into the local representative organization for cross country skiing prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics, the club is creating eight new volunteer committees with an emphasis on membership recruitment, development, training, competition and socializing.

According to Cheryl Morningstar, a longstanding board member of the club who has worked to develop youth programs, the club will look into the possibility of adding one more committee – biathlon.

The Pemberton Wildlife Association is currently building a full-sized biathlon training facility on top of Suicide Hill, along with two other club shooting ranges. The biathlon course was designed by the same architects that helped design the Olympic facilities in the Callaghan, and will be able to hold international events. Because of the elevation and aspect of the course, it should also boast similar snow conditions.

The Whistler Nordics, if they can find someone to spearhead the program, would be interested in offering their young skiers in the Rabbits and high school program the opportunity to train for biathlons.

"If somebody in the club wants to take (biathlon) on, it’s going to happen," said Morningstar. "It depends on who wants to get involved… but we’re really pleased (the Pemberton Wildlife Association) is initiating something, something else to get people involved in Nordic skiing in the area."

Hank Lipsett, a representative from the PWA, says his group has had the biathlon course in its mandate for the last few years, and started construction on roads once they received tenure for their Suicide Hill facility. They have also received a set of four standard biathlon targets from 2010 LegaciesNow.

The goal is to complete the course by the winter of 2005-06, once the trail loops are finished.

"This grew from my own interest in both disciplines, skiing and shooting," explained Lipsett. "I coached the Spud Valley Jackrabbits for several years, and I was concerned to see how many kids were leaving the program once they got to be a certain age. I wanted to keep them interested in skiing beyond elementary school, and thought biathlon was an interesting way to do that."

There are a large number of young shooters in the PWA’s youth programs that could be interested in biathlon, as well as a large number of elementary students in Whistler and Pemberton who don’t have a lot of options once they reach a certain age, says Lipsett.

"It’s a dead end," he added, "because not all of those kids are interested in hardcore competitive ski racing.

"Biathlon is a different kind of sport in that the fastest skier doesn’t always win because you have to do a penalty lap for every target you miss," he said. "It’s more strategic than racing in a lot of ways because the two elements, the skiing and shooting, are so different. There’s a saying in the sport that you have to go from a rabbit to a rock in five seconds."

With the 2010 Olympics coming, Lipsett says he sees potential for a huge growth in the sport in the next few years if they can co-operate with groups like the Whistler Nordics and the Spud Valley club in Pemberton.

"I know Todd Allison from LegaciesNow came here a few years ago to demonstrate the new laser rifles, and that presentation was very well attended. The level of interest was high then.

"We may be going about it backwards, building the facility first and then seeing if the skiers will come, but we think biathlon has a lot of potential here," said Lipsett. "We made sure to build (the facility) to international standards so that anybody could come here to train, from anywhere in the world.

"We’re not competing with the Callaghan Nordic Centre for that elite group, but building something that will really complement the Olympic site. Having two world class facilities within a 45 minute drive of one another will be great for training and recreation, with 2010 Olympics coming this way… and of course our local kids will benefit from that as well."

There will be a cross-country loppet and biathlon demo in Pemberton during the town’s Winter Festival from Feb. 11 to 13, as well as a dance, parade and snowmobile races.

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