For the past 13 years the Sierra Wireless Whistler Cup has been a rite of passage for Canadian ski racers, and for racers from around the world, often giving young skiers their first look at the international competition.
The list of past competitors on the current Canadian Alpine Ski Team includes Michael Janyk, Britt Janyk, Genevieve Simard, Christina Lustenberger, Paul Stutz, Brad Spence, Francois Bourque, Erik Guay, Stefan Guay, Julien Cousineau, Ryan Semple, Sherry Lawrence, Manuel Osborne-Paradis, Brigitte Acton, Kelly Vanderbeek, Shona Rubens and Sophie Splawinski – well over half the current national roster.
Internationally, the list of Whistler Cup alumni includes Lindsey Kildow, Julia Mancuso and Sarah Schleper of the U.S., Denise Karbon and Elena Fanchini of Italy, Manfred Gruber of Austria, Tina Maze of Slovenia, and Anja Paerson of Sweden. Paerson finished second overall in the World Cup standings this season, placed first in the Olympic slalom, and won the overall giant slalom standings.
This year the level of participation is up by over 150 participants, with 21 nations taking part – Australia, Austria, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Macedonia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.
Norway has emerged as the dominant nation for youth skiing in the last few years, and it remains to be seen if their newest batch of skiers is as strong as their last group.
Despite the strong international turnout, the largest contingent at the Whistler Cup will be Canadians. Every province will be bringing a team, as well as ski clubs across the country. In addition, there will a Team Canada selected from the K2 nationals in March.
Leading the men’s side will be Ontario’s Richard Long, who dominated in almost every event at the nationals, and Calgary’s Erik Read, who was also on the podium in every event and picked up the only gold medal that Long missed.
The Whistler Mountain Ski Club’s Alexander Binks also made the cut after winning bronze in the K2 skills competition, and registering strong finishes in the other events.
Other athletes on the official Canadian team are Mathieu Bertrand, Simon-Claude Toutant, Cedrick Gagnon, and Marc-Oliver Vermette of Quebec, Mathew Bunston of Ontario, and Andy Trow of Alberta. Binks was the only B.C. racer on the list.
Whistler will be represented twice on the women’s national team with both Madison McLeish and Brynne Benbow making the cut. McLeish claimed two medals at the nationals, while Benbow picked up one.
The rest of the team is comprised of Aimee Bell Pasht, Shannon Campbell, Emily Goad and Marissa Riopelle of Ontario, and Karel Bouchard, Amie Boyer-Laporte and Camille Gilbert of Quebec.
The K1 national team will also feature a couple local skiers – Ford Swette for the boys and Mackenzie Patterson for the girls, both of whom led the way for Whistler at the recent K1 provincials.
Several WMSC athletes were also named to Team B.C.
For the K2 girls, the team will include Nancy Bayly, and for the boys Ian Morrison.
For the K1 girls, Team B.C. will include Kailee Darlington and Jocelyn Ramsden, and for the boys it’s all WMSC, with William Konantz, Spencer Morris, Daniel Kwon and Joshua Robertson representing the province.
Many of the athletes listed above were among the 30 athletes invited to a special Iris-sponsored training camp in Whistler to prepare for the Sierra Wireless Whistler Cup. From April 3 to 5 the Iris athletes trained with Alpine Canada’s World Cup coaches.
"The stronger we get at every level the better we will be as a ski nation," said Alpine Canada technical director Mark Sharp. "We should aim to be the best at every level – at every age. That is how we will make the country stronger in the end."
The Whistler Cup runs from this Friday to Sunday, April 7 to 9, with daily events in the village and on Whistler Mountain.
The festivities really started on Wednesday with a National Teams Dinner at the Telus Whistler Conference Centre, followed by training and race hill inspection on Thursday.
The racing gets underway on Friday with the K2 super G on Raven/Ptarmgian and the K1 Kombi event. The annual athletes parade and opening ceremonies will take in Whistler Village at 5 p.m. Friday, starting at the Village Plaza and finishing at the base of Whistler.
Saturday features a K1 (age 11 and 12) giant slalom on Raven/Ptarmigan runs, and the K2 slalom on the Upper Dave Murray. The next day the athletes will switch venues, with the K1s in slalom and K2s in GS. Sunday will also feature the final awards/closing ceremony in the village, where the overall Whistler Cup will be presented to the top team, and the Dave Murray and Nancy Greene trophies will be presented to the top male and female from Canada.
For more information on the races, visit www.whistlercup.com.