Representing more than just the Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WMSC), members of the local U16 team did the country proud earlier this month overseas at the Topolino in Italy.
The Whistler club sent 10 athletes to the world’s largest and longest-running international youth alpine races, making it the first time since 2005 that Canada has had representation at the event.
“There was the sense that, yes, it was essentially a club project, but we were representing the entire country and I think that was very well received by some of the other countries there,” said Nigel Loring, WMSC executive director.
Skiers from more than 40 countries raced this year’s Topolino, which has been ongoing for 52 years, and Whistler skiers showed they can be competitive against an international field away from home as well.
Mikayla Martin managed a seventh-place finish in the girls’ giant slalom held March 9, while Jack Crawford placed eighth in the boys’ GS for the team’s best finishes at the two-day event.
“Racing over there was an eye-opener,” said Martin. “The way they do things is a little different and it was really cool to see how good Whistler’s got it. Our training arena and our coaches are amazing.”
Martin and Crawford unfortunately missed out on a chance to move even further into the top 10, as rain forced the cancellation of the second run. Martin was within one second of the Austrian winner when the race was called.
“It would have been cool to race a second run, but stuff happens,” said Martin, who also finished 28th in the March 8 slalom.
The girls races featured 80 skiers each day, and Whistler’s Stefanie Fleckenstein and Esme McTavish each secured finishes in the top half of the slalom field, placing 33rd and 40th, respectively for their best results of the event. More than 100 athletes were on the boys’ start lists and Max Peiffer’s 38th-place finish in slalom was his top result.
Riley Seger didn’t finish either of his races but said he had an outstanding experience on the trip.
“It was a really good trip,” said Seger, who said the atmosphere on the mountain wasn’t quite as social as at the Whistler Cup. “Everyone over there is a lot more intense about the racing.”
But racing was just one of many highlights of the trip. In addition to taking in the different cultural offerings, the team was able to watch the World Cup women’s slalom at Ofterschwang, Germany, on March 10 and later meet with the Canadian team post-race. Seger, who’s been to Lake Louise to watch a World Cup in the past, said going to one in Europe was a totally different experience.
“The crowd was a lot different — a lot more people who were all really into the racing,” he said.
The team was allotted just three spots per gender in the races, so the club held a race-off prior to competition to decide who would compete. Cameron Alexander, Cooper Yates, Carson Llewellyn and Sarah Kapur still participated in the Topolino as forerunners.
Meanwhile, Peiffer’s fluency in German was a huge benefit for the team during the trip, particularly when the group became lost while driving through Germany.
“A couple of times we had to kick him out of the car to get us directions,” laughed Seger.
Part of the idea behind the trip was also to raise the profile of the Whistler Cup, which is now just two weeks away, and Loring said the club was successful in that regard, too.
“It was really good to hear from a lot of the teams who came up and said ‘It’s great to have you back here,’ ” said Loring. “A lot of teams who are coming this year said they’re really excited.”