Heading into his second winter in Canmore, Alta., Pemberton’s Joe Davies still hopes to retain some home track advantage at Whistler Olympic Park.
That’s because Whistler will be hosting its most significant Nordic skiing event since the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in 2023.
Earlier this month, the International Ski Federation (FIS) approved Canada’s bid to bring its World Junior and U23 Nordic Ski Championships to Whistler Olympic Park, organizers revealed on Oct. 19.
“It’s pretty exciting, for sure,” said Davies, who will be eligible to compete in the U23 age division. “I’m not living there anymore, but it still feels like my local area. Hopefully it’ll be an advantage.”
The Black Tusk Nordic Events Society was officially formed last year with an eye to bringing the event to the Sea to Sky corridor, according to chair Norm Laube.
“It’s very exciting. The steering committee has been working towards this over the last several years,” he said.
It will be the third time that Canada has hosted the event and the first occurrence since Canmore, Alta. welcomed the championships in 1997. The championships will bring roughly 700 athletes from 50 countries to compete in cross-country skiing, ski jumping and Nordic combined events. Whistler sent two athletes to the 2020 event in Germany with Benita Peiffer and Michael Murdoch competing, while Davies, who was named to the national junior development team this spring, was an alternate.
Since Black Tusk formalized its committee about a year ago, it completed a feasibility study that included both the Resort Municipality of Whistler and District of Squamish as co-hosts, eventually making its submission to FIS in August.
Laube feels all the ducks are in a row, ranging from funding to volunteers on both the sport and hospitality fronts, which he said is one of the lasting legacies of the 2010 Games.
Over the winter, the committee reached out to all levels of government for hosting grants, and connected with the corporate community.
“And then, of course, COVID came and turned everything upside down,” said Laube. “The good news for us is we thought we were far enough out for actually putting on the event in 2023 that everyone had hopes that … the main wave of COVID will have passed.
“It was a tough decision to make, to go ahead applying two-and-a-half years out, or do you just fold your tent? We felt it was worth pursuing and the world would be a better place two-and-a-half years from now.”
The park will also host two major events in the lead-up to the championships, with the Canadian world championships trials coming this January and a Nordic Combined Continental Cup and FIS Ski Jumping Cup in December 2021 in order to prepare.
Roger Soane, president and CEO of Whistler Olympic Park operator Whistler Sport Legacies, credited Black Tusk for its hard work to land the event.
“They have done a great job in rallying everyone to get this thing up and running and to get the nomination,” he said. “We’re just the facility. Obviously, we want to host these things, but it takes a great organizing committee to pull it together as well.”
Soane anticipates some minor tweaks to the park in advance of hosting the championships.
“The biggest challenge in putting these games on will be in the ski jumping. That’s the one area that needs the most sophisticated equipment. The ski jumps at that point will be almost 15 years old, so we know that there are some upgrades that need to be done there,” he said, noting the timing system and chairlift as two areas that will need some work.
Soane added that there are no plans to utilize the ski jumps this winter, so there will be time to complete any necessary work before the December 2021 test event.
Added Laube: “The jumps and the cross-country ski trails as they stand today are fully homologated.
“That said, the jumps in particular could use some fine tuning and so we’re budgeting some dollars for doing that.”
In terms of this winter’s world trials, Laube said the ongoing pandemic has thrown a wrench into some plans, though organizers remain in close contact with provincial health authorities and are currently anticipating running races with 50-person limits while also ensuring that the park can continue to run its public operations.
“The big question is whether interprovincial travel for the athletes will be allowed in January. We’re seeking an exemption [from quarantine] for that, working very closely with viaSport on that,” he said. “We’re working collaboratively to make that happen.”
After the championships come and go in just over two years, Laube said Black Tusk would remain committed to keeping the venues up to date and ready in case the Olympics come calling again. The park was mentioned as a possibility to host ski jumping and Nordic combined as part of an abandoned Calgary-led bid, though some, including Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee president and CEO John Furlong, have floated Vancouver as a possibility as soon as 2030.
“It would be an amazing thing if that were to happen again,” Laube said.
For more on the event, visit blacktusknordic.com.
As for Davies, he’s entering his final season as a junior as a newly minted member of the national development team. In the midst of the pandemic, he said while the atmosphere is sometimes “weird,” he and his teammates are trying to stick to regular training as much as possible.
“It was like any other summer, pretty much,” he said.
That said, Davies has enjoyed more individual coaching since coming under the Nordiq Canada banner, and even got on snow earlier this week as the Canmore Nordic Centre has Frozen Thunder, snow stored from last winter.
Ski swap this weekend
On the local level, Whistler Nordics will host its annual ski swap in a COVID-19-friendly manner this Saturday, Oct.24.
Taking place at the Whistler Creekside underground lots, the swap will open at 11 a.m. for club members and at noon for the general public, running until 2 p.m.
“Our swap is going to be geared towards members first, so we do encourage people to sign up and be part of the Nordic community,” said club president Tony Peiffer.
Peiffer is excited for the coming winter, noting on Oct. 16 that this year’s registration numbers were roughly equal to the 2019-20 season, at around 220 members, with weeks left to go before the campaign set to begin.
“It’s going gangbusters. We can’t get enough coaches,” he said.
Peiffer added that the club is building on its partnership with Sea to Sky Nordics to offer masters and high-performance programs, with Sea to Sky supporting Whistler’s masters programming and, on the flip side, Whistler supporting Sea to Sky’s high-performance offerings. Whistler also has an arrangement with Spud Valley Nordics.
“We just want to get members to come out regardless of which club they’re affiliated with,” Peiffer said.
For more information, visit whistlernordics.com.