Organizers laud Sea to Sky Nordic Festival as huge success 

Hundreds of volunteers daily made hosting event possible

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The Sea to Sky Nordic Festival was the product of a one-of-a-kind alignment for Canada's Nordic sports organizations that allowed all four sports — cross-country, biathlon, ski jumping and Nordic combined — to host their national championships over a two-week period at Whistler Olympic Park. But if events lined up this one time, then with a little work they could align once again.

WOP is the only venue in Canada that can host all four events at this time of year, drawing roughly 900 athletes to the region from March 16 to 30.

John Heilig, manager of Nordic sports at Whistler Olympic Park, said the event was a huge undertaking.

"It was at the point where our capacity could just handle it, it was definitely a big deal for us," he said. "The volunteer engagement was the biggest part, we had something in the neighbourhood of a couple hundred volunteers every single day making a big contribution into this. They helped make this event a huge success."

Heilig said they created a committee a year ago to start preparations for the events, and it was gratifying to see it all come together. He's heard nothing but compliments from sports organizations, and pledges to return in the future for events and high performance training camps.

But as for the chances that we'll see another Sea to Sky Nordic Festival with all of the national sports organizations taking part, Heilig said that would be a challenge.

"The reality is that this is something that can only happen every three or four years if the schedules line up," said Heilig. "Ski jumping could come here every year, and they probably will. But biathlon and cross-country rotate their nationals so that one year it's in the east, the next it's in Central Canada, and so on. A lot of places want to host these events, so this was the kind of opportunity you're not going to get every year. If we can do it every four years... then that's probably the best we can do."

That's not to say that Whistler Olympic Park won't host any more big events. On Saturday, June 23, the venue will play host once again to a Tough Mudder competition, an event that drew 16,000 athletes in 2012.

As for winter sports, Heilig said they've spoken with Own the Podium and other sports organizations, and there's interest in bringing World Cup and NorAm Cup events to Whistler Olympic Park in the future.

In that sense, the nationals were a great training exercise. Hundreds of volunteers and officials were trained in the lead-up to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, and events like the nationals keep those people involved and keep their skills sharp.

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