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Snowboard World Cup on the move

Discussions underway to keep contests in Whistler, replace December event

The Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS) published its World Cup snowboard calendar for the 2006-07 season last week, and for the first time since 1996 Whistler was nowhere on it. Instead, unless a deal can be reached with the Canadian Snowboard Federation and other partners, the World Cup will move to Big White.

At the root of the move was a decision by FIS to move North American snowboard events to late February and March to harmonize with the 2010 Olympic Winter Games schedule. That would have moved Whistler’s World Cup date from December to March, creating several problems.

The main problem is that March is one of the busier times of the year, and a FIS snowboardcross course requires a significant amount of space and snow. When the events were held in December, snowmaking crews would make snow for the course, and then use that snow to build jumps and stunts in the terrain park.

The March event would also take place about two weeks before the Pontiac GMC national alpine skiing championships, stretching mountain resources.

According to Peter Young, event manager for Whistler-Blackcomb, the move to Big White "is not a done deal yet," and there is still a chance that Whistler will be able to host a World Cup this year.

"We knew the dates were going to change for North America from December to late February, March, so we put together a proposal to the FIS and CSF (Canadian Snowboard Federation) to run an event in Whistler. Instead of a snowboardcross and halfpipe, we suggested two halfpipe events and a big air in late February or early March."

The FIS and sponsors were receptive to the idea, but the CSF are hesitant to lose a snowboardcross event, which is one of Canada’s strongest disciplines and newly incorporated into the Olympics.

In addition, the CSF was concerned about the availability of accommodations in Whistler during the busy season. Event organizers have to provide accommodation to athletes, coaches and officials at a special rate, which is much lower than rates charged during the high season.

Young says accommodation shouldn’t be a problem. Hosting halfpipe and big air events will reduce the number of hotel beds required, and there’s more than enough room.

And he says there is still a chance that Whistler’s proposal will be accepted.

"Just because (Big White) is on the calendar doesn’t mean we’re beyond hope. We’re still talking with (the CSF) to see if we can made it happen."

In the meantime Young and Whistler-Blackcomb are looking for another event for December to take the place of the World Cup, and are in talks with the FIS to bring a World Cup skiercross event to Whistler. If they can’t land a World Cup event, Whistler-Blackcomb may host an invitational race.

"The December event is strategically a critical event for us as a resort," said Young. "It’s a way to bring in some international media and let people know there is snow in Whistler so they can plan their vacations for Christmas and so on.

"We’re not sure we can pull off a skiercross for ’06 or not, but there’s huge interest from FIS and the CFSA (Canadian Freestyle Ski Association)."

The FIS is currently looking into the possibility of making skiercross an Olympic discipline, with the encouragement of the International Olympic Committee after the high television ratings and interest in the snowboardcross events this past winter. The FIS will be making a formal skiercross application to the IOC in the fall.

Whistler has lost World Cup events in the past for different reasons. In 1999 the FIS withdrew the downhill and super G after the races were cancelled three years in a row due to heavy snow and fog.

In 2002 the World Cup freestyle event was moved to Fernie for three years, and then moved to Apex last year. The Whistler events were successful, but concerns over timing, and the difficulty in getting spectators and officials to event venues on Blackcomb precipitated the move. There was also a drive to move major events around the province to showcase different regions and resorts.