The awnings were drawn at the Whistler Sliding Centre (WSC) last weekend (Dec. 19 - 20) to keep copious amounts of snow off the ice, allowing sliding athletes to reach speeds in excess of 130km/h for the first two British Columbia Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association (BCBSA) BC Cup races.
One of those athletes was Whistler local and Whistler Secondary School graduate Mitch McCullough, 19, who now studies at the University of British Columbia (UBC). McCullough walked away with a first place in skeleton on both the Saturday and the Sunday events, leading with an average of around four seconds and clocking his speed as high as 137km/h.
“It’s been good sliding here (in Whistler); I’m used to it,” said McCullough, who still frequents Whistler every weekend between classes at UBC. “I’ve learned here and developed my skills here, so I’m definitely confident with it and love the track.”
McCullough began learning skeleton at the age of 16 in Whistler and has continued to compete and even gets to represent Canada at some events.
He is currently sitting on the B.C. team, but has been competing against other nations at North America’s Cup events.
“The last year or two a lot of development has been happening,” he said. “I started at the provincial level and got a lot more consistent to be able to compete at the North America’s Cup. Now I’m more on (Team) Canada’s radar, which is nice. Hopefully it will lead to something more now.”
For the remainder of the season McCullough wants to better his consistency on the home track in Whistler, but is under pressure to balance racing with his university studies.
“Consistency is my goal for this season and hopefully next season I can work on competing some more,” he said. “At races like this you get a whole bunch of people up here training and competing. It can be anyone from Americans to Australians and even all over Europe because it’s such an awesome track. You do get a dose of the international competition here.”
There were also a few women representing British Columbia over the weekend. Julie Johnson, 23, originally from Saskatchewan, but now living in Vancouver and studying at UBC, managed a third place on Saturday and second place on Sunday in the two-man bobsleigh event with her rookie brakeman Simone Slipper.
“I had an interesting week leading up to (the BC Cup),” Johnson said. “The ice was really fast and then it got a little slower so I had to adjust. (Saturday) I put down some really good runs that I was happy with. (Slipper) and I put down some (personal best) start times.”
Johnson noted that that the BCBSA is currently recruiting female bobsleigh and skeleton athletes and encourages any women interested in the sport to try it out.
“It’s a hyper masculine sport, so there’s always less women,” she said. “But there’s a lot of room for growth. If anyone wants to try they should come out, because we’re looking for women all the time.”
For more information on learning sliding sports, check out whistlersportlegacies.com or slidebc.ca.