On Oct. 7, the Whistler Sliding Centre will open for training and remain open six days a week through the winter season as the new Olympic track holds test events and hosts the Canadian team and other international teams.
Dozens of candidates took part in an officials training course this past weekend, and a second camp planned for this coming weekend is already booked up.
Craig Lehto, director of the Whistler Sliding Centre for the Vancouver Organizing Committee, is confident that the facility will have enough trained officials for the upcoming test events at the track, as well as for the Games. Some officials will come from the tracks in Calgary or Salt Lake City, but the emphasis today is on building local capacity for the sport and finding officials who already have beds in Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish.
“The course from this past weekend went well. We went through both the provincial and national level officials certification for luge, and this weekend we’ll be training bobsleigh and skeleton officials,” he said. “We have close to what we need at the level of training needed for the Games, but we’re also endeavoring to get more than we need.”
Between 70 and 100 officials are needed for the sports and many have to be familiar with the rules from two different sanctioning bodies — the FIBT for bobsleigh and skeleton, and the ILF for luge.
The largest number of officials will be the volunteer members of the track crew, which Lehto is starting to recruit. About 40 individuals will ultimately be responsible for operating and maintaining the track to international standards.
Some of the roles other officials will play include race directors for the start and finish areas, officials that weigh sleds and take temperature readings to ensure that none of the sliders is cheating, and administrative positions working with international judges, timers, and other staff appointed by the two federations.
Test events scheduled for this year — World Cup Bobsleigh and Skeleton Feb. 2-8, and World Cup Luge Feb. 16-22 — are also a training opportunity for those officials, as well as a preview as to what they can expect in 2010.
As for volunteers, Lehto says VANOC is in the process of finding people to work both inside and outside the fence during the World Cup events in 2009, and encouraging people interested in volunteering at sliding events to visit www.winter2010.com. The exact number of volunteers required isn’t known yet, but Lehto says they will have a better idea after the test events are held.
Lehto acknowledges that it can be tough starting from scratch in a community, but says a lot of work has already been done to create a provincial association and a local club.
“It’s hard to compare this to other sports because it’s something that’s brand new in the community, and clubs are always based around a facility,” he said. “This facility just opened for the first time last winter, but just by having a facility you create the impetus to get a club going and to get that club behind the Games. The group has to start at ground zero, and develop a culture for the sport.
“In that sense the officials are the biggest short-term need, because they create the capacity for a club to operate the track, host events, get kids into the sport.”
Lehto says interested community members should visit two websites, www.whistlerslidingcentre.com and www.bcsliding.com, to learn about the tracks, opportunities for officials, and opportunities to join The Track Club at Whistler Sliding Centre.
For Peter Bosinger, Alpine Sport Manager of VANOC, the search for officials and volunteers has been relatively easy. Whistler’s long history of hosting alpine events, and the growing number of Para-Alpine racing opportunities, put him in a good position from the start.
“Everything is on track,” he said. “We’ve appointed a number of positions to volunteers and key officials, many of the positions have been identified and those people are now working together as teams — one for the men’s course, and one for the ladies course — for the Games and the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) World Cup and Paralympic events.”
Last winter Whistler hosted successful FIS World Cup races for able-bodied skiers. In March, Whistler will host IPC World Cup events.
While there is some crossover between officials and volunteers working the Olympics and Paralympics, and Whistler’s Weasel Workers are helping to provide course crews for both events, Bosinger says that Alpine and Para-Alpine sports have also attracted their own unique supporters and volunteers.
“There will be some crossover for certain positions, but we definitely want to make sure we have fresh bodies for the Paralympic events which take place shortly after the Games. Some officials are on course a month ahead of time getting things ready, so we’re specifically recruiting people for the Paralympic test events and the Paralympics.”
The number of officials and volunteers required for the alpine events is around 1,500 people, and roughly 400 will be needed in March for the IPC test event.
While recruitment is going well, Bosinger says more people are needed from the Sea to Sky corridor.
“We will have vollees from outside of Sea to Sky, no question,” he said. “We do want to see volunteers from across Canada, but we also understand that we have to accommodate vollees and find places for them to stay. The more volunteers that have beds, the easier it is for us.”
Other officials are being trained for ski jumping, biathlon, Nordic combined and cross-country. Many of those officials are coming from Squamish, through the Callaghan Valley Local Organizing Committee, and many are in the process of earning their Level 2 international certifications.
Last weekend the first Level 1 course was held for ski jumping and Nordic combined, and more courses will be offered through the fall, on Oct. 18, Nov. 22 and Nov. 23. Level 2 courses will be offered afterwards.
John Heilig, manager for ski jumping and Nordic combined events for 2010, is encouraged by the level of interest and participation.
“We had 18 people in our last session, and we’re also running sessions in October and November for the sports of ski jumping and Nordic combined,” he said. “We’ll need about 180 people in total, including officials and volunteers. We will try to train all of them, and some roles are more specific than others. For example, someone working on the landing hill needs to have good alpine skiing skills and know how to snow pack, and then there are positions like the starter, who needs a good understanding of the sport rules and requirements because the starter is actually in a position to disqualify someone.”
Heilig estimates that they already have 120 volunteers and officials. One area where he says they need more support is ski packing and marking the landing hill. He would also like to see more officials and volunteers from Sea to Sky, mainly because they live close to the hill and won’t require accommodation, but also to develop local capacity for the sport of ski jumping and Nordic combined. Another bonus is the fact that most locals are already strong skiers, and are comfortable packing a steep, icy slope.
Between 20 and 30 officials are expected from the Calgary jumps to work with local officials and volunteers during the World Cup events in January, and to help train local officials for the Games.
Heilig has also introduced a youth volunteer program, where kids under the age of 18 — technically not allowed to volunteer by the International Olympic Committee — will instead work with adult volunteers.
“That’s a real push for us, for several reasons. The main one is that the kids are out of school for those weeks, and this is one of the few opportunities where kids can be involved and on the field of play,” said Heilig. “It also creates a legacy for the sport, and we know youth have accommodation. They also have the fitness and skills we need for things like snow packing. We ran a beginner jump course last winter with some local alpine skiers, and they were amazing to watch.
“One issue we have is that many of our volunteers are older, they’re either retired or have the resources to take a few weeks off to be officials during the Games. Maintaining the landing is pretty demanding, it’s very physical and you need to be a strong skier.”
While Heilig is encouraged by the number of people coming forward, he hopes to eventually have more trained officials and volunteers than they need. To sign up for courses, you can contact Nordic sport assistant Amanda Cohen at Amanda_cohen@vancouver2010.com.
To take part in the planned events in October and November, participants should meet at the base of the ski jumps in Whistler Olympic Park at 9 a.m. on training days, bringing lunch, proper outdoor clothing, and proper footwear.
More information will be posted at the Callaghan Valley Local Organizing Committee website at www.boldtracks.ca.
John Aalbert, manager of Whistler Olympic Park, has worked at four Olympics, competed at several others, and managed the facilities at Salt Lake City. He is quite happy how many officials and volunteers have stepped forward for different sports at this stage.
“This weekend we had a biathlon seminar, the week before that it was ski jump, so that’s going well and VANOC is training volunteers in Squamish and signing up names for World Cup’s so it’s going well on all fronts,” he said.
“The Games aren’t in people’s faces yet, but when the winter comes this year and the snow people will get excited about helping out at events — especially when they see the test events happening. In my experience, like in Salt Lake, everybody gets into the Games eventually and it all starts now.”