Whistler Olympic Park may have just opened for its summer season on July 1, but it is still keeping winter operations front and centre thanks to a Nordic announcement this week.
On July 4, Whistler Sport Legacies (WSL) said it would be bringing the Whistler Nordic Development Centre to the park for the spring of 2017. A compact version of the program with four biathlon athletes from northern B.C. is already operational with other Nordic disciplines set to come later.
WSL vice-president of sport Lucinda Jagger said with a strong biathlon coach in Etienne Letondeur and venues in which to train, it made sense to bring in such programming.
"There have been ongoing conversations about how Whistler Sport Legacies can continue to facilitate being a centre of sport excellence," she said. "The other way it came about a few years ago was Whistler Sport Legacies went into partnership to hire a biathlon coach with Sea to Sky Nordics. That individual just happens to be a really great coach in the province and we wanted to use his services more and more so we started to collaborate with the provincial organization on how we can leverage the Olympic legacy facilities and utilize the coaching expertise of Etienne."
Jagger explained the athletes that will take part in the programming would be over 18 and are aiming to make the national team. The centre's goal is that when the athletes make the national team, they'll step in and be competitive on the world stage.
"We can create a daily training environment that's required to get these athletes to the next level," she said. "There comes a stage where athletes have to centralize and train fairly consistently in a high-quality environment.
"(The athletes are) out of high school and really want to commit a couple of years and dedicate a couple of years towards fine-tuning their skills for this sport."
WSL president and CEO Roger Soane said providing the centre fits into the direction the organization is taking as a whole as it shifts from being just a training site to providing the training necessary for those athletes to have success.
"We're inching our way more into program provider rather than facility operator and doing a little bit of both. Obviously we don't want to tread on the toes of the clubs and the sporting PSOs and NSOs (provincial and national sporting organizations) but we want to find programs that we can do in conjunction with them to help athletes stay in the region and progress in their sports," he said.
Jagger expects the program to take a couple years to get to its pinnacle, but would like to see between 16 and 24 athletes across the Nordic sports once it's there.
Funding for the centre comes from Biathlon B.C., WSL and club fees paid by athletes.
Jagger said the program is open only to British Columbian athletes for the time being, but will consider allowing other provincial athletes and perhaps even international competitors in the future.
Park opens for the summer with electric-assist fat bikes
With the park having opened its gates to public summer activities just a few days ago, Soane said he hopes visitors take advantage of its vastness and beauty.
"One of the challenges we have with the park is its size, not only in the summer but also in the winter," he said. "Most people stay, in the winter, within two or three kilometres of the lodge and in the summer, it's even less, maybe one kilometre.
"It's such a beautiful park, we thought 'How can we get people out into the park and enjoying the views and the nature and the trails?'"
The answer, he hopes, is electric-assist fat bikes that will make it easier and quicker for visitors to get to some of the park's farther reaches.
"Fat bikes seemed to be the most logical thing to go with. Most people can ride a bike. We tested them and with the pedal-assist, you can get a long way with very little effort," he said. "We've got hard, medium and easy trails you can take, and take a one-hour trip and see various points throughout the park."
There are roughly a dozen bikes for rent at an hourly rate of $15.
Soane noted the summer bobsleigh program Rolling Thunder also started up July 1 and has added a more "interpretive" element as participants will walk the track beforehand in addition to just riding down.
For more information, visit www.whistlersportlegacies.com.
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