Trained as a freestyler, Mike Atkinson was one of the original park and pipe freeskiers to hit the Whistler in the late 1990s (right alongside the New Canadian Airforce). He spent a decade enjoying the local lifestyle and Coastal pow before moving on to become a respected freeskiing judge and announcer. Veteran Insider readers may recognize Mike as our official Olympic correspondent, and he is back this year filing reports from South Korea. Take it away Mikey!
Hello Whistler Insiders!
We are just a day away from the big show getting under way here in South Korea and the flame will soon be lit for the 2018 Winter Games – also known as the “Peace Olympics.” I’ve had the great pleasure of being situated in the Phoenix Snow Park the past few days. Located about a 45-minute drive from the East Coast, the park will play host to Parallel Giant Slalom, Moguls, Aerials, Halfpipe, and Skier/Boarder Cross as well as the first event to drop, the Snowboard Slopestyle.
Riding up the chairlift, the slopestyle park certainly looks visually appealing. Three massive and uniquely shaped jumps complete the bottom half of the terrain park while up top a video-game-like rail section welcomes the riders as soon as they drop in. Every piece of snow on this course has been groomed and manicured and while they knocked it out of the park on the aesthetics, the rideability of the course is another issue.
Many of the riders have voiced concerns about the rails and how to get into and out of these giant features without sacrificing flow and rhythm. After they do navigate the top of the course, athletes will be met with smaller than normal features which means we may not see the big tricks we are used to witnessing at an X-games caliber course. With snow and warmer temperatures in the forecast speed could become an issue as well. But everyone has to ride the same course so we will see how it goes.
Anyone who remembers the 2010 Games in Whistler and Vancouver will recall the golden antics of local women Ashleigh McIvor and Maëlle Ricker who took top spot in their respective sports of Skier Cross and Snowboard Cross. It will be a slightly different format here in Korea with 6 athletes dropping into this monster of a course (instead of the usual 4).
There are a handful of banked turns in the middle of the course which will provide ample opportunity to pass as well as some crazy large step-ups and rhythm sections designed to throw the athletes off their game. The course is still under construction however, I can see the excavators in the bottom 1/3 of the run. The amount of snow they have made and shaped is downright crazy!
I’m really excited to watch the Canadian Women’s Boardercross team, they really seemed to find their groove in the last two World Cups in Bulgaria and Germany just before heading to PyeongChang. Keep your ears open for Zoe Bergerman, Tess Crichlow, Carle Brenneman and Meryeta O’dine. The women all travel together and train together down in North Vancouver when they are in Canada.
There have been the traditional bumps and bruises that come with organizing an event of this size and Korean teams are working around the clock to cover all the bases. What has made the biggest impression on me so far is how warm and hospitable the good folks of South Korea have been. Every volunteer, host, security personnel, official has welcomed everyone with a smile, and this has helped build a fun, inclusive and energetic vibe encompassing the games. The way it should be! I will check in again soon.. Peace out from the Peace Olympics.
PS. While there are no NHLers playing Olympic hockey this year, rumour has it the good ol’ Canadian hockey game is scheduled to make an appearance in Whistler at the resurrected Skiers vs Snowboarders Hockey Game at the World Ski & Snowboard Festival. That used to be one of the best games of the year so if you do get the opportunity to visit Whistler in April, make sure you put that on your schedule. Until then, enjoy the Games, Go Canada.
Edited February 12, 2018. Cassie Sharpe was wrongly identified as a slopestyle skier when she is competing in the halfpipe.
Edited February 16, 2018 to include Derek Livingston and Daichi Hara. Thanks to our readers for setting us straight.