Whistler Cup: powered by licorice 

20th annual youth ski races attract athletes from around the globe

click to flip through (6) PHOTO BY JOHN FRENCH - MORE COW BELL One of Canada's top young competitors springs out of the Ptarmigan start gate at the Rio Tinto Whistler Cup on Sunday.
  • Photo by John French
  • MORE COW BELL One of Canada's top young competitors springs out of the Ptarmigan start gate at the Rio Tinto Whistler Cup on Sunday.

For the fourth year, Joanne Mulligan volunteered during the Rio Tinto Whistler Cup and her job this year made her one of the most popular parent helpers on the mountain.

Hers was a simple yet very important job. She was stationed at the bottom of the giant slalom course on Ptarmigan Sunday collecting bibs from the K2 men after they finished their final run. Each athlete who handed Mulligan a bib to was offered a piece of licorice.

Some of the athletes crossed the finish line very happy with their time while others were devastated because they slipped off the course, missed a gate or suffered some other ski racing injustice.

“Most of the time they are smiling,” said Mulligan as she traded licorice sticks for race bibs. “Sometimes they need a hug or don’t make eye contact.”

The kids who didn’t ski to their full potential mostly just wanted to move on so Mulligan had to assess each athlete as they came off the course to determine how to approach the up and coming leaders of the ski racing world.

The 11 to 14 year old athletes from 21 countries numbered 400 strong this year and history suggests more than a few of them will go on to be international ski racing stars. International-calibre racers like Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso, Anja Paerson and Benjamin Raich all skied at the Whistler Cup as young competitors.

It took about 250 volunteers a day, people like Mulligan who have a ski racing child or a passion for volunteering at youth skiing events, to make the event a success.

“There is such a spectacular group of people coordinating I wouldn’t think of not volunteering even if my son is long gone,” said Mulligan. “It is a good community, a good event.”

Mulligan’s son Sam did well this weekend picking up two podium results.

The community Mulligan spoke of included the athletes. At the end of the competition the athletes became part of the volunteer team by helping to pack up the racecourse infrastructure with the adult volunteers.

When Mulligan discovered the licorice supply was getting dangerously low with many athletes still to come, a coach from one of the European teams produced a large Toblerone bar. The adults in the race community came together to ensure fair treatment was offered to every competitor with the last K2 skiers of the day getting to choose from licorice or chocolate as a reward for returning their racing bib.

While Mulligan traded candy for bibs the other 249 or so volunteers on Whistler Mountain were maintaining gates, timing racers, slipping the course, preparing food, answering phones and more.

The weekend of racing wrapped up with a Sunday evening National Teams dinner at the conference centre and a social for coaches after that.

Check out the Thursday edition of Pique Newsmagazine for full Whistler Cup results.

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