Longboarders face off on Sunday 

Races follow Whistler Sliding Centre access road

It's going to take two days and thousands of hay bales to make the course safe for roughly 100 athletes taking part the first Whistler Longboard Festival downhill race this weekend.

Running in heats of four, longboard skateboarders will weave from the top to bottom of the one-of-a-kind Whistler Sliding Centre road to the finish line, eight corners and 330 vertical metres later.

This year is the tryout. If everything goes according to plan the festival will become an annual event likely earning it the reputation of being one of the most technical races in North America.

It's also going to be an international event, according to the race director Lee Cation.

"We're just starting to see athletes arriving from Ontario, from Australia, from California and Colorado. It's pretty exciting," he said. Cation has been trying to create a longboard event in Whistler for more than five years now, but was content to wait until after the Olympics before setting the wheels in motion.

Now it's a reality. The course will be closed on Saturday for practice runs and qualifiers, although the public is invited to come out on Sunday, June 26 to watch the main event, which should get underway between 11 a.m. and noon. There's no charge, and there will be refreshments and a DJ on site to set the mood until the finals at around 4 p.m. As well, there will be demo tents where people can try out the latest longboard designs.

"People should bring a lawn chair, a cool non-alcoholic beverage to drink, and just enjoy the afternoon," said Cation.

Heats of longboarders will be coming down the course every few minutes and the spectator area includes the last few corners and the finish line.

Cation is predicting an all-U.S. podium with pros like James Kelly and Jeff Woodfine taking part and two of the top Canadians - Kevin Reimer and Scott Smith currently sidelined with injuries, and Patrick Switzer competing in Europe. However, he said other Vancouver area riders including Andrew Chapman, George Mackenzie and Kyle Martin have been riding well recently and could be a factor. Whistler's Rick Hornbrook has also been in the mix.

Top speeds on the course will likely be between 80 and 85 km/h said Cation, although only time will tell whether weight matters.

"One thing (longboarding) is looking at in the future is creating weight classes, because that does play a factor in a race. A light 17-year-old has a hard time keeping up to the older heavier guys, although this course might be different - sometimes a light guy will do better on a technical track because they can grip the corners better. My guess is that this will be that kind of course."

For more information, visit www.whistlerlongboard.com.





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