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Whistler skiers make the jump

Two new locals on national team; two more crack development squad

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When the 2018-19 ski season gets underway, Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WMSC) will have a dozen alumni donning the maple leaf under the Alpine Canada (ACA) banner, according to ACA nominations released last week.

And nearly half of them will have risen to new heights this year.

On the senior men's alpine team, Riley Seger jumps from the development team to join brother Brodie while Cameron Alexander's strong 2017-18 season saw him make the leap from the BC Ski Team. Broderick Thompson, Jack Crawford and veteran Manny Osborne-Paradis are also back on the team for another season while Stefanie Fleckenstein cracked the women's senior squad once again.

At the development level, Max Kirshenblatt and Asher Jordan made the leap from the BC Ski Team.

Four-time Paralympic medallist Mollie Jepsen is back on the para-team after an incredible rookie season, while on the ski-cross side, Marielle Thompson is back on the A Team while Mikayla Martin will start the season at the C level.

Both Riley Seger and Alexander were thrilled to crack the senior team.

"It was definitely pretty exciting. It was in our goals for the season to end the year (by) making the senior team," the 21-year-old Seger said. "It was pretty nice to have that come through and have the hard work pay off."

Said Alexander, who turns 21 on May 31: "Honestly, I was really excited. It was a goal of mine coming into this previous season to make the team and it felt pretty good to achieve that."

With a half-dozen WMSC alumni on the men's alpine team and two more in the pipeline, Seger said having so many talented skiers within the club provided ample motivation for all of them to improve.

"Our main thing has been having a strong group of guys together, (who are) willing to work hard and push each other. We've been able to, from a young age, push each other the whole time. Even though it's an individual sport, it's really important to have really good teammates that will continually push you and push each other. You'll all ski at a higher level."

With brother Brodie on the team, the younger Seger said he's always looking at his older sibling's bootprints to see how to get to the next level.

"We've been together for the past two years, for the most part. It's always been a benchmark of where I need to be. When we're at home, we're always training together and we're on the hill together all the time. It's nice to see what it takes and where I need to be," he said.

Alexander agreed that the internal competition is important, but so, too, is cooperation.

"There are a lot of us that ski together. A lot of us grew up skiing together when we were younger and they have a very good program at Whistler as well," he said. "We built off each other through the years and got better and better."

Even with the jump to the senior team, both will likely refine their skills on the NorAm Cup circuit next season with the hope of a World Cup start or two. However, having aged out of the Junior Ski World Championships, Seger said the bulk of his international competition will come via some Europa Cup races next season. He's hoping to get his turns on courses like Wengen, Switzerland and Kitzbuhel, Austria.

"It'll be nice to get experience on those tracks," he said, noting he expects to see several European competitors at those events. "I'm sure I'll see a lot of familiar faces."

Seger's offseason involves training in Calgary for a month before returning to Whistler for on-snow training. He'll also spend August skiing in Europe to prepare for the coming campaign.

"I'm looking to get stronger in the gym—stronger, fitter, better at everything," he said.

Similarly, Alexander's summer will involve him getting in the "best shape possible" during gym sessions while he focuses on improving technical aspects of his skiing on snow. While he has an idea of which races he might be doing next year, he hasn't yet confirmed what the coaching staff's plans are for him.

"Two big goals for me coming into this next season are to finish in the top three in the NorAm standings for speed, the super-G and the downhill," he said. "Otherwise, I still need to sit down and go through my goals for the season."

Meanwhile, Kirshenblatt will step into one of the vacant development team slots. The 19-year-old wasn't sure what his future might hold after a packed season, but was thrilled to have made the jump from the provincial to national level.

"It was a little bit of a surprise for me, for sure, but it was definitely an exciting time," he said. "I didn't really know what was going on with the development team, if they were even going to have one, so I was just kind of in the dark before the word came out.

"Alpine Canada gave me a call and it was all good."

Kirshenblatt credits the WMSC skiers who ascended in the past few seasons with helping steer him onto a similar track, and he credits them for blazing a wide path for current club members to follow.

"There are so many inspirations in the club itself—Morgan and Conrad (Pridy) coming through the club and them being on the national team, Riley (Seger) and Stef (Fleckenstein) followed in their footsteps next. It makes you believe that anything is possible when you grew up skiing here," he said.

Kirshenblatt is also planning a busy summer to improve his conditioning and springboard into 2018-19 "with a lot of confidence."

Non-WMSC alums, but with Sea to Sky corridor connections, who received nominations were Alex Cairns as part of the para-alpine development team and Whistler resident Dave Duncan to the top ski-cross level.

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