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Sports programs adjust to the Games

Sports and recreation groups in Whistler have a mixed response to the Olympics, from business as usual to closing up shop for two to three weeks.

Sports and recreation groups in Whistler have a mixed response to the Olympics, from business as usual to closing up shop for two to three weeks.

Most clubs polled parents before making their schedules for the season, but there were other factors to consider - the availability of space, the number of athletes away on holiday, restricted access and traffic on the highway, the lack of parking in the village, and coaches and athletes attending or volunteering at events.

As well, both elementary schools will be closed for one week and the high school for three weeks during the Games, which some groups see as an opportunity to expand their programs as kids and families could be looking for things to do.

Coming into this season the Whistler Minor Hockey Association - and the leagues they play in - were keenly aware of the impact that the Games might have on their schedules.

February 12 to 28 is typically a busy time for minor hockey, but this year the league started its competitive schedule early so regular season play and a good part of the playoffs would be wrapped up in time for the Olympics. There is a chance that some Whistler teams could still be playing during the Olympics, but on a playoff schedule.

"If that's what we've got to do, then we'll find a way to do it. We'll get travel passes, and do what we can," said Whistler Minor Hockey Association president Cam Fellows. "Right now we just have to wait and see how things unfold. It's going to be interesting because there isn't any ice time in the city during the Games, and all of those teams are going to be crammed into a few rinks that aren't being used for the Olympics."

Fellows said the Resort Municipality of Whistler has not rented any arena space for Games activities, and that the WMHA will hold onto its ice time to hold practices and scrimmages. While the official season will be over for most teams there are still tournaments to train for, and kids expect to keep playing hockey through to the spring.

As for the league itself, most games should be wrapped up before the Olympics.

The WMHA also took the unusual step of putting together large teams this year to ensure that every team in every division has enough players.

"In the past we would have teams with 12 or 13 players, but this year we left a bunch of teams oversized because we know that on every team there are half a dozen families that are leaving town for the Games," said Fellows. "We didn't want to leave any team so small that we could run into an issue in the playoffs."

The Whistler Skating Club is also holding on to its ice time during the Games, although it won't be business as usual according to club president Susan Shrimpton. The club is developing special programming through the Games, and will announce more details in late November.

The Whistler Mountain Ski Club plans to continue to offer programming through the Games, similar to what would be offered during a regular spring break.

"I won't say it's business as usual because our normal training areas are being used by some group called the Olympics or something like that," joked executive director Nigel Loring. "We're pretty excited about everything. We're working closely with VANOC and Whistler Blackcomb to make sure there are lots of training opportunities during that period. We appreciate that a lot of athletes are out of school and parents might be working with the Olympics so we're going with our standard four days a week program, although in some cases that could be five."

The WMSC is looking at moving training over to Blackcomb during the Games, but there is also a chance they might have space on Whistler where the Olympic alpine events are taking place.

There are also some difficulties when it comes to accessing the ski club cabin in Creekside, which is technically inside the fence when it comes to the Olympic Games. However, Loring is satisfied that public transportation will be a good way to get around, and that access to both Whistler and Blackcomb will be easy enough through the village.

The club is also waiting to hear more about transportation options for club members that come up from Squamish or Vancouver.

"There are some challenges there, and we are still working on a transportation strategy for those athletes," said Loring. "Every situation is a little different, but we're looking at everything."

The competitive calendar was kept clear during the Olympic Games, a time of year when athletes would normally be on the road training and competing.

"Everything in the province is basically shut down and that was by design," confirmed Loring. "The main reason is the number of volunteers required to host an event of this size in Whistler, they're coming from all over B.C., all over the country, and in some cases from around the world. There's no actual moratorium on events, but there wouldn't be any officials available if there was an event because everyone with those skills to host ski races will be working at the Olympics."

The Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Club is taking a break on the first Games weekend so kids can watch Olympic freestyle events, but things get back to normal on Feb. 20-21 and 27-28 with club training. Some athletes will also attend a B.C. Freestyle Series event taking place at Mt. Washington from Feb. 19 to 21.

The Whistler Valley Snowboard Club is sticking to its usual schedule, but is adding some training days during the Olympic break for kids that are off school - similar to what the club might offer during a typical spring break.

Programs hosted by Whistler Blackcomb are expanding through Games-time, and will run daily during the Games.

Whistler Gymnastics, which is based at Spring Creek School, decided to halt operations temporarily during the Games. Their decision was based on the number of athletes who will be out of town during the Games, as well as the difficultly some families and athletes will have travelling south on the highway.

The Soul Funktion Dance Studio, located in Function Junction, is also closing its doors during the Games, Feb. 5 to March 1 for similar reasons.

The Whistler Sea Wolves swim team will likely suspend its programs as well, but may offer classes if there is enough demand. The swimming pool at Meadow Park Sports Centre is open to the public for the length of the Games, and parking will be available.

Whistler Taekowndo will be on temporary hiatus during the Games, but Whistler Kishindo plans to continue holding classes as usual.