After Games, a surge of sports interest

Ski cross, sliding sports benefit from Olympic exposure

Dreams of ski cross are dancing in many more heads after the 2010 Olympics, as plenty of people seem to have fallen for the sport after watching Whistler's Ashleigh McIvor deliver her golden performance - and Chris Del Bosco of Sudbury, Ont., give everything he had in pursuit of Olympic glory - when ski cross made its Games debut.

The exciting sport, featuring head-to-head ski racing over feature-filled courses, was unfamiliar to many before it was added to the Olympic roster, though it thrived through events such as the X Games. But now that millions have been exposed to it, interest seems to be surging.

"Before the Games, I probably received maybe five questions in the three years," said Andrew Squires, director of marketing and communications for the Canada Ski Cross Team, adding that a few more trickled in before the Olympic events.

Since the Games, he estimates that he's received more than 50 to 60 inquiries from interested skiers throughout Canada and the U.S., ranging from 11- and 12-year-olds to 28- and 30-year-olds hoping to race at a Masters level.

The Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WMSC) runs the B.C. ski cross team, the only provincial-level program in North America, and possibly the world, notes Chris Kent, events manager for the program and an analyst for CTV's Olympic ski cross broadcasts.

WMSC Executive Director Nigel Loring said the club has received some 40 calls about ski cross since the Games, "from all over the province." Athletes are asking how to get involved, and what they can do if the program isn't in their area.

"We're getting all ages," Loring said.

Kent said he received about three to five emails per day during the Olympic telecasts. He said some of the writers indicated that they listened to him on TV, and a bunch more asking about the B.C. program and the upcoming ski cross competition he's organizing at Big White Resort, the Western Canadian Championships and Nor Am Finals. Kent also staged the B.C. Championship in January at Big White.

"I think there is a surge of interest from many age groups," Kent wrote in an email to The Question.

Squires said he was expecting something like this surge of interest after the Games.

"We knew that we had an awesome sport something that was so visually exciting," he said, adding that it's also easily accessible to the uninitiated because everyone understands the chase - after all, we've all done it when we were kids.

"It's the most basic of sports."

Now, officials are working on plans to respond to the expressions of interest and develop the grassroots of the sport to support the success at the national team level.

"Our big focus was getting to the Games and making a big show of it; now we're (thinking), 'OK, we've got to get on this,'" Squires said.

Loring said WMSC officials are interested in seeing things through with the sport and developing a long-term plan for its development. Everyone had been waiting to see how the Olympics would affect things, he added, and they wondered if a groundswell of interest would grow if Canada came away from the Games without a medal.

Since Whistler's McIvor became the golden ski cross girl, officials don't need to wonder anymore.

"The big hope was that one of the kids was going to win a medal, and they did," Loring said.

Now, discussions will continue about how to foster the future of the sport and its grassroots levels in Canada. The B.C. program is in its second full season, offering training and races in B.C. and elsewhere, and Kent said programs are coming together in Ontario and Alberta.

After beginning with high-level racers and events, Kent said, "Now it's sort of growing more organically."

Loring said the WMSC is looking into hosting a spring camp that would allow kids from all over the province to sample ski cross.

The program received funding from the Canadian Sport Centre Pacific for three years, for an investment in coaching, events and equipment. "We've done that successfully," Loring said, but this is the third and final year for that financial support, and the program will need to stand on its own.

The B.C. program currently has 18 participants, and Loring said having upwards of 25 members could help support a full development system in the future.

Ski cross isn't the only sport to benefit from the Games-time spotlight. Nicole Simon, Whistler-based program coordinator for the B.C. Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association and the Canadian and B.C. luge associations, said they've received some 50 emails expressing interest in bobsleigh and skeleton from aspiring sliders across Canada. Simon said she expected that kind of a reaction to follow the Olympic hoopla.

"These sports aren't showcased on such a scale very often," she said.

Interest in luge also flared up in Calgary, and one of the recruitment camps there has already sold out, Simon said.

She didn't get as many luge inquiries as expected in Whistler, so she's planning to do more to get the word out about the availability of the sport and the upcoming recruitment camps with wheeled luge in spring and summer and on-ice sliding in the fall.

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