Last winter's low-snow conditions prevented the national ski jumping team from training and competing at Whistler Olympic Park.
It was an unfortunate turn of events for the club, according to head coach Gregor Linsig, as he feels the team doesn't get out this way often enough as it is.
"We'd love to come more," he said. "It is quite a distance, but they're fantastic hills. They're probably some of the best hills in the world right now, so it's a shame that we don't get to use them more often... The jumps themselves are modern, still, and in very good condition."
The team will get its wish, as it will come out to Whistler to train from Dec. 28 to Jan. 2. As well, several athletes will return for an FIS Cup competition from Feb. 5 to 7.
Poor weather wiped out the Canadian Large Hill Championships last March, as well as team training here last season, forcing the team to head down to Park City, Utah to use their jumps instead. The team regularly starts its season there but returned there more often than originally planned.
"We were forced to go there a few more times because of that, but it's the same travel, the same 12-hour drive," Linsig said.
Whistler Sport Legacies president and CEO Roger Soane explained Whistler Olympic Park has fired up its snowmaking machines in advance of the team's arrival, noting that even though there is plenty of natural snow, the artificial snow helps to make a perfect outrun.
"We're happy to see them come. We've got great conditions," he said. "It's great to see the jumpers coming out. Our goal is to eventually have a team here. We'd love to have the national team based in Whistler, as we would with all our sports."
Linsig explained the 2015-16 season is a slower one in the bigger picture of qualifying for the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, so most athletes won't compete all that much. However, the improvements the skiers make this year will help set the table for when qualifying events begin next year.
Among the athletes making the trip will be Taylor Henrich — the nation's top competitor who placed fifth in World Cup action in Nizhny Tagil, Russia earlier this month — who will attend all World Cup events for the first time this year. She will be joined in Whistler by fellow women's team members Atsuko Tanaka and Jasmine Sepandj, and men's team members Josh Maurer, Dusty Korek and Matthew Soukup.
"Every year is important. This is kind of an off year. There's no World Championships, no major events," Linsig said. "Unfortunately for our team, our athletes have to pay for everything 100 per cent themselves. It's more of picking the right competitions to go to because next summer, that's when the Olympic qualifications start. From next summer and up until January 2018, they're going to have to be hitting all the World Cups to make sure they qualify for the Games. That's more important to save your money (for), let's say.
"On the ladies side, they're doing well. They're making some money back in prize money and (from) sponsors."
Beginner programming also started
While the best in the country try to take themselves to the next level, Soane noted anyone intrigued by the sport could also take part.
Coaches Tom Thompson and John Heilig will hold drop-in "Night Flight" entry-level sessions on Wednesday nights in January and February from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The sessions begin Jan. 6. Those looking to participate should be intermediate downhill skiers and can bring their downhill skis.
The focus is finding kids to become the next generation of the sport, though adults are more than welcome to give it a try as well.
"I still believe that if there's anywhere in the world where we can find kids who want to throw themselves off a jump, the Sea to Sky corridor is it," Soane said. "We want people to come out and try the sport.
"We're hoping to see some kids out there — or some adults if they want to come and try it."
The sessions cost $20 per person plus $5 for park entry.
As well, a Hoppers clinic for kids aged eight through 14 will be offered. The clinics will be four sessions each offered on Saturday and Sundays in January, February and March. The classes run from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. The cost is $180 plus $25 for a discounted season pass.
For more information or to register, visit www.whistlersportlegacies.com or call 604-964-0060.
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