News and Announcements
BY DAN FALLOON
Sam Mulligan isn’t a Whistler local, but coming from the Grouse Mountain Tyee Ski Club, he’s not that far off.
Mulligan, a veteran of five Whistler Cup festivals instead of four (benefitting from a FIS age change for the 2012-13 season), won four medals at the Whistler Cup, including giant slalom gold in 2013.
His fondest memories, however, involve breakfast.
“I always liked the breakfast up there. You’d get the early load and get that nice Fresh Tracks breakfast,” he said with a laugh. “That was always a highlight for me as a kid—just pig out before going to race.”
Of course, winning a race at Whistler Cup was a major stepping stone for Mulligan en route to his young World Cup career.
“Looking back, it doesn’t seem as big of a deal but in the moment, you feel like it’s the most important thing in the world. At the time, I was super happy to show that I could do well and it gave me hope about moving forward, that I one day would have the chance to compete at a higher level,” he said.
Mulligan, 22, now boasts a FIS Junior World Ski Championships silver medal from the 2018 downhill race. The winner was none other than another Whistler Cup alum from Mulligan’s years in Switzerland’s Marco Odermatt, who recently hit the podium in two late-season World Cup races. Mulligan said it’s always exciting to see Europe’s best come to his backyard, especially in a sport that so commonly revolves around Europe.
“It was always an exciting time of year because when you’re young, it was for sure the biggest race of the year,” Mulligan recalled during a break from the Canadian Alpine Ski Championships in late March. “We’d always look forward to it. It was always at the end of the season and it was exciting to see what teams were going to be there, from which countries and seeing a bunch of new kids.”
With a half-dozen years of wisdom gained from his final Whistler Cup until now, Mulligan has garnered some perspective on his roots in the sport. Success at this age isn’t the be-all, end-all for champions—and neither is failure for those who struggle.
“Ski racing takes a long time. There are people who have had success at Whistler Cup, like the Marcel Hirschers that have gone on to be superheroes right away,” said Mulligan. “There are just as many or more people who had no success and they’re also the ones winning the World Cups today.
“Enjoy the competition, but it’s not the end of the world either way. If you win at that level, you have to work very hard to keep winning. If you’re not there yet, it’s not game over.”
Now as a young gun on an up-and-coming Canadian alpine team, Mulligan still goes back a long way with many of his teammates, as he raced alongside Whistler Mountain Ski Club alums Riley Seger and Jack Crawford at the Whistler Cup.
“We have a great group of people I’ve been skiing with since I was at Whistler Cup,” he said. “No matter what’s been happening, it’s been fun to share this with really good friends.”
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.