Athletes from the Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WMSC) headed into the holidays on the back of a number of strong performances, as the club hosted more than 160 skiers for the first U16 and U14 races of the season on Dec. 22 and 23.
Whistler skiers racked up a number of podium finishes in the Teck Coast Zone technical races held over the two days at the Dave Murray National Training Centre, leaving WMSC coaches impressed.
“They’re a dominant force out there in the zone, for sure, and we had some fantastic results,” said U16 head coach Jeff MacLennan. “Everybody’s improving and that’s a great sign.”
With the 2013 season being the first with new age brackets (the U16 and U14 divisions replace the old K2 and K1 classes, respectively, while advancing one year), MacLennan said the skill on display for the season-opening races was higher than ever for youth races just below FIS level.
“This new age change definitely allows the kids to stay longer in the oven and improve a little bit more before they get sent out into the big world of the International Ski Federation,” he said.
Stefanie Fleckenstein nearly posted back-to-back wins in the U16 girls’ races, winning the giant slalom on Dec. 22 and taking the runner-up spot in the following day’s slalom. Teammate Esme McTavish took a silver in the GS as Whistler girls occupied four of the top five spots. Laura Swaffield and Claire Baragar were fourth and fifth, respectively, to finish just off the podium.
Swaffield and Baragar both had strong slalom races as well, with Baragar repeating her fifth-place standing and Swaffield taking sixth.
Gabrielle Smith was the other Whistler U16 girl to finish in the top 10 both days, securing a fourth-place result in slalom to better her 10th-place finish in GS.
Whistler skiers were outstanding in the U16 boys’ races as well, taking four of a possible six podium spots and recording most of the weekend’s top-10 results.
Max Peiffer led the host team with a pair of podium finishes, taking a bronze in GS before capturing top spot in the slalom. Whistler’s James Crawford picked up the GS win while Cooper Yates and Cameron Alexander skied into the top five.
Yates earned silver and Alex Gershon took bronze behind Peiffer in a Whistler sweep of the slalom podium. The race also saw WMSC athletes Jeffrey Cadman and Max Kirshenblatt move up into the top five. Griffin Renzoni, Graham Brown, Jonathan Hutchison, Charlie Tuer and Carson Llewellyn were among the other Whistler skiers recording a top-10 result during the races.
MacLennan was especially excited for Peiffer, Yates, Gershon and McTavish, each of whom stood on the podium for the first time in their racing careers.
“It’s nice to see some improvements from (skiers) who haven’t experienced that type of success before,” he said. “It’s proof that what we’re doing is good and that we’re headed in the right direction.”
Kyle Alexander led the charge for the U14 boys on the first day of racing as Whistler skiers held down all the podium spots in GS. Alexander took the win, with Finn Iles and Kasper Woolley earning silver and bronze, respectively. Griffin Smith finished fifth in the one-run contest.
WMSC boys earned two more medals in slalom, with Myles Kowalczyk winning gold and Nikola Filipovic taking bronze. Davis Bonsall-Jevning placed fourth for the host club, and Alexander Valentin’s eighth-place finish gave him two top-10 results for the weekend.
Whistler’s U14 girls were equally dominant, as eight local skiers were in the top 10 of the Dec. 23 slalom. They were led by Katie Fleckenstein, who secured the victory with a big lead over the field. Anna Gosney was the only skier to reach the podium in both races, as she picked up a giant slalom silver and a bronze in slalom.
Ella Renzoni earned the win for Whistler in GS as well. Mollie Jepsen had a consistent weekend with two top-10 results.
“This is my first year in this position and I’m very impressed with the maturity and ability of the skiers that I’m working with,” said U14 head coach Jordan Williams, a former B.C. Ski Team head coach. “The main thing I’ve noticed is that all the kids have bought into being as focused on their job as they can and being as athletic as possible to prepare for it. I think we’re getting really good results because they’re looking for a challenge — they’re not just out there to ski, they’re out there to push themselves.”
The U14s race next at Hemlock from Jan. 18 to 20, while the U16s return to action for the Enquist Slalom races at Mount Seymour going Jan. 26 and 27.
U16s headed overseas
The Whistler club will be sending a contingent of U16s this year to the famous Topolino international youth ski races in Italy, an event of similar calibre to the Whistler Cup that will take place March 8 and 9.
MacLennan said earning an opportunity to race the Topolino would be key to the development of skiers that are selected to the team later this season.
“If these kids are going to go anywhere in the sport, they gotta get used to it,” he said. “The earlier they get used to some time-zone changes and not having bacon at the breakfast table over in Europe, the better.”