While every sport practiced internationally has a national championship of some sort, the Sport Check Canadian Alpine Championships, taking place March 21 to 27 in Whistler, is a bigger deal than most.
Unlike other sports, all of the top athletes who are healthy usually show up to contend for titles, providing a chance for Canada's up-and-coming racers to compare themselves against the top athletes on the senior national team — and maybe to catch the eye of national level coaches. Strong showings at nationals have jump-started a number of careers since the first national title was awarded in 1929.
As well, Whistler is one of the few venues that's able to host all of the racing disciplines at once — in past years the technical events and speed events have sometimes been split between different resorts, and last season both the downhill and super G were cancelled.
This year all of the events will also take place on the Dave Murray National Training Centre run, an Olympic legacy for ski racers that created a permanent facility for racing on Whistler Mountain.
"I'm really looking forward to getting back on the track in Whistler," said Mike Janyk, who is a four-time national slalom champion, one win shy of the record. "I haven't won a Canadian title in a couple of years and I'd like to break the tie with Thomas (Grandi)."
While Janyk usually specializes in slalom, he's planning on competing in other events this year as well — including possibly the downhill and super G. "I was always mainly a technical skier growing up but in my third year of FIS I started doing everything," he said. "I do have some long skis out here, but we'll have to see.
"It was really cool to see Trevor (Philp) in there last year and I'm looking forward to challenging him and all the other guys."
Also in the lineup is Whistler skier Manuel Osborne-Paradis, who missed most of the last two seasons with injuries but came back strong this year to work his way back into the top 15 in downhill and top 30 in super G. Morgan and Conrad Pridy, both of dwhom raced at the World Cup level this year, will also be contending for medals this year. Morgan recently won the NorAm Cup final super G of the season at Nakiska.
Madison McLeish is still the reigning super G women's champion after tying Britt Janyk in 2011 after last year's race was cancelled. She has been injured for most of the season, but did take part in a few ski cross races in February and will at least be on hand as a spectator if she's not cleared to defend her title.
As well as national level athletes, the races are also open to members of provincial teams and club teams. On the men's side, British Columbia has quota spots for 29 women and 17 men in downhill; 12 women and 11 men in slalom, 21 women and 15 men in giant slalom, 23 women and 18 men in super G and 21 men and 21 women in combined.
The B.C. Ski Team currently has six members that are veterans of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club — Charley Field, Emma King, Blake Ramsden, Brodie Seger, Ford Swette and Broderick Thompson, some of whom are also members of the national training program. Any spots not taken by members of the national or provincial teams will be taken by FIS-level athletes training at the club level, based on rankings.
This is the first time Whistler has hosted the nationals since a three-year stretch leading up to the 2010 Games from 2006 to 2008.
"This is the only time that everybody in the nation races against each other," said Hugues Ansermoz, head coach of the women's team. "There are a few young girls who have been doing well in NorAms and I'm looking forward to seeing them race against (Marie-Michele) Gagnon, Erin (Mielzynski), Larisa (Yurkiw) and Marie-Pier (Prefontaine).
"All of our girls — Gagnon and Mielzynski included — want to be national champions and they are going to fight hard for that. There's going to be some good racing and hopefully and we see a few young girls giving some good performances."
For the complete schedule, visit www.alpinecanada.org.