WHAT'S COMING TO THE 27TH WHISTLER CUP
BY DAN FALLOON
There are some new and exciting changes coming to the 27th edition of the Whistler Cup as organizers work hard to put together the best festival yet.
“It’s looking good,” Whistler Cup administrator Christine Cogger said.
One exciting development is Norway’s return to the U16 division. The Norwegians won in 2015 and 2016 but fell to the two-time defending champion Swiss in 2017.
“They’re a really strong contender for the Whistler Cup, so we’re really excited to welcome them back,” Cogger said. “It’s pretty key for us. One of the goals for us is to invite these strong international teams to allow Canadian athletes to experience a really high level of competition without having to go overseas.
“We can create that atmosphere here by inviting some of the bigger, stronger teams to come to the event.” The process of getting teams from countries with strong alpine programs begins in the fall, when organizers send out invites to select programs to allow them time to coordinate arrangements within their European seasons and plan logistics for heading all the way to Western Canada.
“We’ll assist them with their travel, and buses when they get here. When they’re on the ground here, we try to lend a helping hand to make sure (things go smoothly),” Cogger said. “Some of these teams, they only land on Tuesday and then they start training on Wednesday.
“They jump right into it, so we try to make it as smooth and as simple for them as possible when they get here.”
This year, expect a full slate of U14 competitors, with more than 280 athletes. At press time, entries were still coming in for the U16 event, but Cogger expects between 160 and 180 racers to register by the time the dust settles. Factor in coaches and that’s over 550 team-affiliated folks in town, not to mention family flying in to cheer on their children, brothers and sisters.
This year, athletes will be attending from Armenia, Lebanon and Israel.
Also new this year is a U14 team relay for the men on Friday, April 12 and for the women on
Saturday, April 13. (see next page for a full story).
One final programming note that longtime attendees should heed is the Parade of Nations being moved up to Thursday afternoon from its traditional Friday afternoon slot. Weaving through Whistler Village, the parade will kick off at 5 p.m. and end in Skiers’ Plaza for the Whistler Cup’s official opening ceremonies.
Cogger explained with the World Ski and Snowboard Festival running on the same weekend, and moving its big air event from the evening to late afternoon, it made sense to bump the parade ahead a day in order to allow winter sports fans to enjoy everything Whistler has in store for the weekend.
However, what’s most important is ensuring the parade is a memorable experience for athletes who have traversed thousands of kilometres to be here. “That’s a big part of the event for our visiting teams, so we would like to have as many spectators and supports out there (as possible),” Cogger said.
Even though ski racers are generally part of something bigger, representing a club or a country and chasing a championship like the Whistler Cup, a lot of times, it is an individual endeavour.
But at the Whistler Cup, there are opportunities for these young athletes to compete alongside one another. This year, the festival is rolling out a U14 team event to go alongside the U16 team dual slalom.
After regularly holding a team event for the older racers, Whistler Cup administrator Christine Cogger is excited to expand the offering to younger competitors as well.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity for teams from across the U14 (field) to go head-to-head with each other and mix it up,” Cogger said. “I think it’s a highlight of the weekend for a lot of us, whether we’re organizers or athletes.”
Chief of race Geoff Gagan explained that team events are getting some more international attention, so it’s certainly exciting to bring it to the Whistler Cup competition.
“They’re a little more on the radar since they’re getting a little more popular on the World Cup. A lot of ski clubs are doing these kinds of events just because they’re fun and inclusive,” he said. “They’re also crowdpleasers, just fun for people to watch.”
The U16 dual slalom is always a hoot, with athletes singing their national anthem with plenty of flag-waving and cheering on the sidelines. The U14 relay could be a challenger in terms of excitement, as teams of six will cruise down the course one-by-one, with the next racers in the queue being alerted they can start as soon as their teammates cross the line.
Both Cogger and Gagan see the team events as a chance for up-and-coming skiers to at once socialize and compete, especially on teams from smaller contingents where it’s necessary to do some intermingling.
“It’s really neat to see the kids really work together towards scoring points for their team, but another aspect that’s interesting is some of the smaller teams, who may not come with a full complement of racers, get to participate in the event,” Cogger said. “You could have one athlete from the Maritimes, one athlete from Croatia, two athletes from Alberta and the balance from B.C.
“They’re working together to create a team having only just met that day or a couple days prior.” Added Gagan: “It’s a real team bonding that you don’t necessarily see all the time in an individual sport such as skiing.”
Another benefit to the team events, Gagan explained, is that they create the opportunity for more racers to experience the thrill of victory and earn some hardware.
“It allows participants who might not have a chance at winning an individual event to win in a team event, so not only is it super fun, but it can also be a real confidence booster for young athletes,” he said.
The U14 team relays will run on April 12 (men’s) and 13 (women’s), while the U16 dual slaloms are set for April 14.