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Olympic hopefuls moving to Sea to Sky

Finding housing a challenge, but communities open their doors
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Home Grown Ski cross hopefuls Julia Murray (bottom) and Ashleigh McIvor work out in the new high performance centre on Wednesday. Both athletes were raised in Whistler and have places to stay, while some of their teammates are having a harder time getting settled.

Two years ago, when the PacificSport Sea to Sky office was created, there were about 60 Sport Canada carded athletes living in the corridor. This year, with maybe a dozen athletes still en route, the number is already 96.

Part of the reason is that more athletes are registering with PacificSport to take advantage of programs and expertise offered, and part has to do with athletes wanting to train at 2010 Winter Games venues.

“In the last few months we had five cross-country skiers move here, some freestyle skiers moved up to be closer to training, some ski cross athletes have relocated here, and we have more snowboarders relocating from the east for the winter months,” said Tami Mitchell, regional coordinator for PacificSport Sea to Sky. “We’re expecting the luge athletes to move here first next spring when the sliding centre opens, and then an increase in sliding sport athletes soon after that.”

The housing situation in Whistler is making things difficult for athletes, many of whom have already relocated to Squamish.

Jordan Williams, head coach and program director of the newly created B.C. Ski Cross team, will be basing the program out of Whistler this year. As a result about seven more athletes have either made the move or are in the process of moving to Whistler.

“Three of the athletes are (Whistler Mountain Ski Club) coaches, so they are already established in the valley, they have work here and have a ski pass, and they’re already well set up,” he said. “As far as accommodation goes we’ve always left it up to the athletes, but this year is rough. I know some of them will end up living on couches, at least for the first while, and I don’t think it’s an easy thing for them at all.

“Being an athlete, working your butt off to cover rent, and spending the rest of your time in training, is tough. But everybody is committed, and have taken out their lines of credit to make this happen. Now they’re in our hands to work with, and we expect to show that if we have an opportunity to work with the athletes we can make them faster.”

Williams says the demands of the sport attract a certain mentality that is rare, as well as a strong level of commitment. One of the team prospects became interested in the sport after competing in the Red Bull Crashed Ice skatercross event on the frozen streets of Old Quebec City, which is basically ski cross with ice skates and hockey gear.

The program itself will have limited funding, with some seed money from PacificSport to pay for coaching and the Whistler Mountain Ski Club donating office space and training time on the mountains. Williams says they will be working to find additional sponsors to help with the administration costs and assist athletes.

There are plans to take the team to events over the course of the season and to a camp at Red Mountain. The team is also pushing for a chance to train on the Olympic course at Cypress Bowl, but will likely have to wait until spring.

The B.C. Ski Cross team was created to supplement the national program, which was also created this year to provide athletes to represent Canada in the 2010 Winter Games. The goal is to create an organized training, competition and development structure for the sport similar to ski racing that reaches down to the club level.

“In the end we could have athletes and courses all over the province that only come together for contests and camps, but for the beginning we need to have everybody in one place,” said Williams.

Cross Country B.C. recently hired Amy Caldwell as a head coach for the National Athlete Development Centre for the Callaghan Nordic Centre. She is currently working with five athletes at the development level, and could be working with 10-12 athletes as the centre expands.

The team has found a home in Squamish, where the community has embraced Nordic sports and the Callaghan Valley facility with open arms. A group of local proponents have organized the Callaghan Local Organizing Committee to support a high performance centre before and after the Games.

“There was a steering committee that determined that Squamish would make the most sense to base the program, it’s a good community, housing is easier to find, and it’s cheaper,” said Caldwell. “That said, I think the team would be interested in moving to Whistler if we could find reasonable housing — mostly because of the facilities, like the gym and the Lost Lake trails, and it’s closer to the Callaghan.”

Her current group of skiers is between 18 and 22, and most are taking correspondence courses to earn college credits while training. A few also work part-time.

“Right now our dryland training is definitely full-on, it’s every day, and in another week we head out for the first camps and races. Some skiers will be on the road from next week until the end of February, and may only be in Squamish for two or three weeks in that period.”

Caldwell says members of the national team are considering moves to the region to train, as well as a top member of the U.S. team. She also expects other national teams to show up by next season to start training at the Olympic facility.

“The Callaghan looks amazing, it’s going to be a great place to train,” she said.

According to Anita Cote of the Whistler Sliding Centre, the men’s and women’s national luge, bobsleigh and skeleton teams could relocate to Whistler as early as February 2008 if the track passes inspection.

“Definitely all of them will be here for the nationals in (October) 2008.”

Luge Canada and Bobsleigh and Skeleton Canada are also concerned about housing for athletes, but the newly formed Track Club has offered to find rooms in Whistler and Pemberton.

“Housing is definitely one thing that was discouraging for the teams, but I know they’re getting some help on that,” she said. “I would expect that most of the development athletes would stay in Calgary, but some will try to move here to be closer to the new track. We’re talking about a fair number of athletes, when you include both the men’s and women’s teams, but this is where they need to be.”

Alpine skiers will continue to spend most of their winters on the road, and plans are in the works to establish a more permanent summer training camp on the Farnham Glacier near Invermere in 2008 to keep skiers in Canada. However, Canadian athletes will get several chances to ski the Olympic and Paralympic runs on Whistler Mountain. There will be World Cup races in February, following the national championship super G and downhill races. The national championships are scheduled for Whistler again in 2009. As well, there will be camps and other training opportunities for Canadian skiers to become familiar with the Olympic courses.

Snowboarders have always lived in the corridor, but now come in greater numbers than before. Currently eight member of the national team live in Squamish and three others in Whistler. During the winter months, the remainder of the halfpipe and snowboardcross teams relocate to the corridor, with athletes staying on the couches of other athletes. The alpine team tends to spend most of the competitive season on the road at competitions and camps, and the emergence of the Farnham Glacier as a national training centre will keep athletes in the eastern part of the province through the summer.

Paralympic athletes are also taking an interest in Whistler, but only a few have relocated to the corridor in the past few years to register with PacificSport.

According to Mitchell, PacificSport has recently been more active in making Whistler more welcoming to new athletes.

“We do try to help by housing athletes, and they can contact us if they’re looking or desperate,” she said. “Sometimes we can find them a place with another athlete, or a family.

“Another way we’re helping is by affordable programs like our new cooking classes, and our dinner and movie nights. If they need to find work, we have a program called Job Store where we’ve partnered with businesses in town that hire athletes and recognize that they need very flexible work hours.”

JobStore is posted at http://jobstore.pacficsport.com . PacificSport is encouraging local businesses to sign up with the program, and post any part-time jobs to the site.




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