Skiing and snowboarding are recreational activities at heart, but it doesn’t take a lot to elevate the art of sliding on snow into a sport. You can race on snow against the clock or the person beside you, or soar above it for the appreciation of judges and fans. You can enjoy a combination of racing and soaring like ski and snowboardcross events or moguls competitions, or use your snow gear to grind metal, wood and plastic to mix things up a bit.
From December through April, the Whistler Blackcomb Events Department runs several amateur-level events and event series for local and visiting racers, flyers and grinders, while playing host to other competitions and contests. Taking part in these events is a great way to meet people and socialize on the mountain, to have some fun, to test your skills and to improve — if your goal is to get better, then competing is the surest way to progress.
Park Rider Ski and Snowboard Events
This is an event series for the terrain park crew, with five slopestyle-style events that emphasize a variety of different park skills. Riders can make as many park runs as they want in the time allowed to warm up, and in the end are ranked based on the best of two judged runs.
The judges are usually pretty interactive with the athletes, providing encouragement to the skiers and snowboarders, and some live commentary in between runs.
The events are open to skiers and riders of all ages. Pre-registration is available for $30 online or at Whistler Blackcomb Guest Relations, and day-of-event registration will be available for $35. Pre-registration is recommended to save money and guarantee a spot — some age categories, particularly for younger skiers, have been known to sell out.
The opening event, an All-Rounder Park Jam, is on Dec. 15, followed by a 13 and under slopestyle on Dec. 29, and three additional slopestyles open to all ages on Jan. 5, Feb. 16 and Mar. 24.
Helmets are mandatory and mouthguards are strongly recommended. Other types of padding (think shin guards and tailbone protectors) aren’t a bad idea, either.
All participants will get some refreshments at the post-event awards, as well as a chance to win draw prizes.
Kokanee Valley Race Series
This alpine race series is a Whistler classic, taking place on Thursdays over the course of the season. There are eight events on the calendar this year, including five giant slalom races, a Terrain GS (a GS on the ski cross course), a super G and a dual GS and team relay to close out the season. There’s no slalom race this year, probably because most recreational skiers don’t have jaw, hand and shin protectors lying around.
The majority of participants are skiers, but the events are open to snowboarders and telemarkers as well. And while some athletes are incredibly competitive, the majority come out every week to socialize, have some fun sliding around gates and train their legs for other events like the annual Peak to Valley Race.
Pre-registration is available for $30 online and at Guest Relations, and event day registration is $35. There’s a $110 option that includes a ski pass for the day as well as the race, and a $200 pass covers all eight events for a price of $25 each.
The awards are held at the Mountain Club at the Westin, with video playback at 3:30 p.m. and draw prizes and awards at 4 p.m.
All participants must wear helmets and be over the age of 19.
Event dates are Dec. 19, Jan. 9, Jan. 23, Feb. 6, Feb. 20, Mar. 13 and Mar. 20.
Also take note of the Master’s Recreational Race on Saturday, Jan. 26 — a warm-up for the annual Peak to Valley Race the following weekend.
King of the Rail presented by Showcase
There are four King of the Rail jams on the event schedule this year, all taking place under the lights at the base of Whistler Mountain on Saturday nights.
It’s not unusual to get 100 skiers and snowboarders, and sometimes more, out to an event, with riders dropping in on two or three different rail and box options over the hour-and-a-half-long jam. The athletes themselves cast votes for the winners in each category, which get a cash prize based on the number of entries.
Registration is $15 from 6 to 6 :45 p.m. at the Whistler Village Showcase Store, followed by a brief mandatory meeting at 7 p.m. The jam runs until around 8:30 p.m., followed by awards, draw prizes and refreshments.
Event dates are Dec. 28, Jan. 4, Mar. 1 and Mar. 8. Spectators are welcome, and have been showing up in huge numbers in recent years with the change of venue to the base of Whistler.
Ski and Snowboard Cross
There are two local Ski and Snowboard Cross events on the schedule this season. Due to the lack of numbers in the older categories, both events are for skiers and snowboarders in the 13 and Under age category — by far the biggest group over the last few years, with groups like the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, Freestylerz, Whistler Valley Snowboard Club and other Whistler Blackcomb clubs and classes taking part.
The events run over two days. The first day is for training and qualification, and the second day is for additional practice and the bracket races.
Registration is $45 in advance at Guest Relations, or $50 on the Saturday.
Dates are Jan. 18-19 and Feb. 22-23.
Peak to Valley Race
Spots are still open for the 30th anniversary of this legendary race, which has participants racing from the alpine on Whistler Mountain to the Creekside base. The course has a vertical drop of over 1,440 metres, 180 gates (a typical GS race is about 35) and over 5km of terrain from top to bottom.
Participants have to sign up in groups of four with at least one female member. Two team members race on Friday, Jan. 31 and two race on Saturday. Participants (and it’s mostly skiers although some snowboarders and telemarkers do take part) are ranked individually, and by team based on their combined age and time.
The cost is $520 for a team, which includes the race and tickets to the famous after party at the Roundhouse Lodge on Saturday night.
Early registration is recommended as the event usually sells out. If you don’t have a team, organizers will be finding spots and making teams for individuals closer to the event date. Helmets are mandatory and you must be 19 or older to take part.
North Face Park and Pipe Open
This is the third year that the North Face Park and Pipe Open returns to Whistler, this time running from Jan. 13 to 16 with halfpipe and slopestyle competitions. This year the event is a sanctioned gold-level competition on the Association of Professional Freeskiers World Tour, and there are tour points up for grabs that athletes can use to qualify for bigger events, plus $55,000 in cash prizes for the three-event tour that they can use to get there. Information is available at http://thenorthfaceppos.com/whistlerblackcomb/.
The format changes almost every year for this event, which turns 17 years old on Mar. 5 and is the longest-running snowboard event in Canada. The theme for this year is still being developed, but last year’s event was “The Night of the Living Shred,” a zombie-themed slopestyle at the base of Whistler Mountain. More information will be available closer to the date.
The best of the rest…
If you’re counting, that’s 23 races and competitions in a period of just over four months, and it’s not a comprehensive list. Other events that the public can take part in include the Telus Winter Classic, Mom’s Mountain Classic, the Nintendo Family Mountain Adventure, corporate and charity races, and the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, which often includes a few open events. It’s a rare weekend that doesn’t have at least one event on the schedule.
In addition to on-mountain events, there’s a wide range of other sporting activities available in Whistler and Whistler Olympic Park this year for Nordic skiers in cross-country and biathlon. More on those next week.