Whistler is abuzz with excitement and news about Canada’s athletes at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi these days and not to be outdone by the mass media The Whistler Insider also has a man on the ground in Russia.
Mike Atkinson is a Canadian freeskiing legend and one of the early stars of the twin-tip/terrain park revolution that hit skiing in the late 1990s and changed the sport. He spent a solid decade in Whistler starring in ski films, leaping from the pages of magazines and coaching local rippers with the Blackcomb Freestyle Club. For the past few years he has been traveling the globe judging top ski contests like the X-Games, the Dew Tour, US Open and Whistler’s own World Ski & Snowboard Festival. And now he’s judging at the biggest show on snow.
Atkinson is one of the strongest and most knowledgeable voices in competitive freeskiing and, for the next couple weeks, he’s also The Insider’s exclusive source in Sochi. Take it away Mikey:
Hello Whistler! Life is a bit of a bubble here at the Games but from checking out the #WhistlerUnfiltered images I can see you guys have been getting a ton of snow lately. I hope everyone is making the most of it. Over here the weather has been incredible: clear and blue. (It’s been so good actually, there is speculation the Russians may have come up with a magical “Bluebird Device” they are using to control the weather. In any case it’s been great.)
Remember during the 2010 Games how good the skiing in Whistler was? The hills were empty, the snow was great and no lift-lines in sight. It’s like that right now in Sochi—I’ve traveled a lot this year and the lift-access skiing here is some of the best I have seen. Plus, security measures mean no one is getting up the lifts unless they have a special ALP (Alpine) mark on their credentials. I have one and I’ve been shredding lines that rival the epic Spanky’s Ladder/Diamond Bowl zone on Blackcomb.
There was a lot of media jabbering about unpreparedness before the games started but I decided prior to leaving home that it was going to be awesome and so far things have exceeded my expectations. I even got to meet hockey icon Don Cherry in the airport lounge on the way over here. He took the time to get a photo with me and was a real gentleman— definitely the cherry on top of my long journey to get to Russia.
There is no hockey being played where we are, up at the end of the valley in Rosa Katur, but there is some nightlife, bars, restaurants, the athlete’ village and other amenities. The Olympic stadium here and the terrain park area are very impressive— so big it’s almost over the top. It will be interesting to see if the Russians are able to use these facilities as effectively as the legacies left in Whistler after 2010. For the most part it’s just a really great vibe, everything feels safe, and I’m really excited to feel and be a part of the awesome spirit of the Olympic Games.
It took a few days for me to bump into any Canadian athletes but what an incredible show our team put on for the Women’s Slopestyle Skiing the other day. As a former Blackcomb Freestyle Team coach I had my finger’s crossed for Pemberton’s Yuki Tsubota. It looked like she had really found her groove early in the competition but unfortunately it was not to be. In the finals Yuki was just unable to keep her speed up on her 900 and she hit the knuckle of the jump and put her knees up into her jaw causing a very painful broken mandible. I can’t tell you how proud I was for Yuki all week long and I know the folks back in Whistler, especially in Sushi Village, are all raising a glass to her efforts and wishing her a speedy recovery. She is definitely a force to be reckoned with in this new Olympic sport.
The other Canadian women also carried the day in Slopestyle. Kaya Turski had the makings of a real-life Cinderella story and it would have been golden if she had been able to lay down her run. In the end though, it was Canadian teammate Dara Howell who stepped in and raised the level of Women’s Slopestyle from here out. Dara actually ran into a light-fixture the night before the competition and needed stitches in her forehead but she looked like a seasoned pro out there boosting jumps and greasing rails to win the gold. Kim Lamare has just recovered from a knee injury and she laid down one of the best Zero Spins (hit the jump switch and land switch with no spins) ever performed in competition en route to a bronze. So great to see two Canadian women on the podium that night.
I also ventured over to the halfpipe to watch the Men’s Snowboard finals and bumped into a few other folks who are no strangers to shredding laps of Whistler’s Peak to Creek. Chris Turpin is a local skier who was selected to coach the Russian ski team and he has immersed himself into the Russian culture so well we are now calling him Christoph Turpinski. He and his crew have really done a great job here taking a team of eager skiers and helping them gain the technical skill and confidence to compete on the world stage in their own home country.
There are still a lot of politics to work through for snowboarding and freeskiing when it comes to dealing with the structure and rules of the Federation International du Ski and the International Olympic Committee but here on the snow it is really apparent that the Olympic spirit is very strong and all the athletes are pumped to be here and having fun. I think Canadian snowboarder Spencer O’Brien summed it up nicely when I bumped into her at the bottom of the pipe and asked how her Olympic experience has been. She replied with a single word, “SICK!!”
And that sums it up over here. Now stop reading your computer and go up the hill.
Stay tuned for more reports from Sochi and don’t forget that many of these Olmypic athletes will be in Whistler competing in Big Air, Halfpipe, Slopestyle and more during the World Ski & Snowboard Festival in April 2014. Get all the info and accommodation deals at Whistler.com