Top downhill racers return for Whistler Longboard Festival 

Fourth annual event to feature 'jam-packed' schedule this weekend

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - riha returns Jimmy Riha rides to victory in the open downhill final of last year's Whistler Longboard Festival. Riha will be back to defend his title this weekend.
  • file photo
  • riha returns Jimmy Riha rides to victory in the open downhill final of last year's Whistler Longboard Festival. Riha will be back to defend his title this weekend.

The Whistler Longboard Festival has provided three years' worth of exciting, unpredictable finishes in its main event, the open downhill race on the Whistler Sliding Centre service road.

But among each of those wild races down the hairpin-filled track, one thing has remained a constant — California rider James Kelly.

Kelly, winner of the open race during the inaugural festival in 2011 and a finalist each of the past two years, will be one of the competitors to keep an eye on when the Whistler Longboard Festival returns this weekend, running Friday, July 3, to Sunday, July 5.

The Arbor-sponsored downhill races, which will conclude with final heats on Saturday, are once again part of the International Downhill Federation's (IDF) World Cup tour, and $10,000 in cash prizing will be up for grabs this weekend.

So what has been Kelly's secret to finding success on the resort course every summer?

"Just having fun, mostly," he said. "The road is kind of similar to Cali-style roads, so it's familiar.

"It's not one of the fastest tracks on the circuit, but it's definitely one of the most technical."

Defending champion Jimmy "Rad Train" Riha and 2012 winner Andrew Chapman will also be back this year to help headline a world-class field. Brazil's Douglas Silva should arrive in Whistler riding some momentum, having just won the Maryhill Festival of Speed World Cup, one of the circuit's most prestigious races, this past weekend in Washington.

"We sold out quickly with 250 guys from all over the world, and we've actually got our best international representation we've had in Whistler, with countries far and wide," said race director Lee Cation, as riders from more than 15 different countries are signed up to race. "We've got a lot of the Europeans coming over now. We're building a good reputation around the festival."

On the women's side, Calgary's Elena Corrigall should be pegged as the favourite. The former member of the Canadian junior luge team not only comes into Whistler as the defending champ; she also picked up the victory in Maryhill last weekend and is the reigning IDF world champion.

Although the World Cup stop in Whistler isn't having too much trouble attracting top racers, hanging on to the World Cup designation might be a little tougher. The winter-weathered pavement isn't quite at the same quality seen at other races on the circuit, and Cation anticipates that the race could lose its World Cup status unless the road can be resurfaced within the next couple of years.

"That was a challenge at Calgary Olympic Park, too," explained Cation. "There's no longer a World Cup there because the pavement just isn't world cup-calibre anymore."

But whether it's a World Cup venue or not, Cation said the Whistler Longboard Festival will continue to be a staple event in the resort.

"We want to stick around for the long haul," he said. "We're trying to do things slow and steady as we grow and we hope to put on an event in Whistler over the long term.

"We'll be here regardless of whether there are any sponsors, period, or we have to sleep in a field. We're resilient, and we're excited about the participation."

That attitude came in handy this year when it was a little tougher to garner financial support for the event. The festival also benefitted from RMI funding provided by the RMOW in 2013, but didn't get a slice of that pie this year.

"It was a bit of a year of consolidation, but as we ramped up, people started to realize what was happening and wanted to get on board," said Cation.

"Saturday and Sunday are going to be pretty jam packed."

The schedule kicks off Friday with qualifying heats for the downhill, with the top 96 riders moving on to Saturday's finals. Racing gets underway Friday at 1 p.m., the same time major class final heats will get going on Saturday. Admission is by donation to the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program.

Sunday will feature the return of the Brooklyn Workshop Skate + Shoot and Enduro, races sanctioned by the International Distance Skateboard Association out at Whistler Olympic Park.

The Skate + Shoot is held over 10 kilometres and two shooting sessions at the biathlon range; the Enduro is a standard 20-km race. Both are open to all ages and ability levels, with events getting underway at 8 a.m.

"We've been really surprised at the amount of people who don't know about the Skate + Shoot," said Cation. "Anybody who has a board in Whistler should come out and ride the Callaghan Valley. It's unbelievable and a beautiful location."

Also filling out the Sunday schedule are two events planned for the Whistler Skate Park starting at noon — Sk8 Cave's Skate Bowl Jam and Gullwing's Death Slalom. On-site registration is free, and cash prizes will be offered for both contests.

Full festival details, as well as sign-up for Sunday's races at Whistler Olympic Park, are posted at www.whistlerlongboard.com.

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