The Whistler Sliding Centre (WSC) is taking some of the load off of a couple of provincial sport organizations.
Beginning this winter, the WSC will be responsible for all luge, bobsleigh and skeleton programming through BC's Sliding Development Centre as the BC Luge Association and BC Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association shift their attention to hosting events and raising funds.
As part of the announcement, Cassie Hawrysh and Ryan Taal were named head coaches for skeleton and bobsleigh, respectively, while a luge coach will be named in the near future.
Whistler Sport Legacies (WSL) vice-president of sport Lucinda Jagger said creating the Sliding Development Centre has been in progress for the past two years since ViaSport, the non-profit organization funded by the province that supports sport in B.C., approached the sliding centre with the idea. Jagger explained it can be difficult for smaller provincial organizations to offer three full-time coaches while recruiting and preparing athletes for the national and international levels.
"The goal is to have consistency in coaching and consistency in programming," she said. "By coming in with Whistler Sport Legacies, there's a lot of backbone that can help support the year-round part of the programming by integrating into our administration and coordination skills."
Jagger noted ViaSport covers roughly 30 per cent of an athlete's costs, while the rest is currently generated through athlete fees and through WSL. She said both BC Luge and the BCBSA helped support the WSC make the transition.
"We couldn't have done it without support from our two existing (provincial sport organizations)," she said. "They both came together to make it happen because it's the best thing for the program and the best thing for current athletes and future athletes."
In terms of the instruction, skeleton coach Cassie Hawrysh recently announced her retirement and was looking at her next move when Whistler Sport Legacies approached her to get involved.
"It's an interesting transition, absolutely. You get so much from so many different coaches," noted Hawrysh, adding she has a volleyball and a track-and-field background as well. "I know what works for me and what doesn't, but I've been able to witness, especially in such an individual sport as skeleton, what works for some people and what doesn't.
"In a sport like this, it's great to be athletic but there's a whole other realm we need to discover for each athlete to learn how to drive."
Hawrysh explained she's excited for the chance to coach in a sport where athletes are responsible for a lot of their own instruction on-track.
"You can't spend an afternoon shooting free throws like you can in basketball," she said. "This is something that is heavily dependent on a coach and athlete relationship as well as an athlete's internal relationship with their understanding of themselves and their knowledge base."
Hawrysh plans to teach off-ice tools like visualization to help her athletes achieve success.
Whistler hasn't hosted pilot school for skeleton before, Hawrysh said, but it's something she'll be developing over the next several months to bring WSC in line with the other North American tracks in Lake Placid, Calgary and Park City.
Bobsleigh coach Ryan Taal, meanwhile, started as a skeleton athlete before transitioning into boblsleigh with the Canadian development program. He slid on Ivo De Bruin's Dutch team before retiring last year.
After coaching with the Alberta team last season, Taal opted to pursue the open bobsleigh coach job with Whistler Sport Legacies. He credited Alberta head coach Dennis Marineau, a long-time national pilot coach, with getting him set in the role.
"Working with him, I learned different approaches to different athletes," he said. "When you've got newer athletes, a lot of the time, it's just building (their) confidence... before starting to work on the more technical stuff. With the higher-level athletes, you've got to focus in on the technical stuff because a lot of them already have the confidence in what they're doing. It becomes a little more nitpicky before we send them off to the national program."
Racing will come to the Whistler Sliding Centre this weekend with Intercontinental Cup and North American Cup skeleton on Nov. 4 and 5, and North American Cup bobsleigh from Nov. 4 to 7. Action kicks off at 9 a.m. each day. For a complete schedule, visit www.whistlersportlegacies.com.