HEADER PHOTO CREDIT RICK MELOFF

Whistler is home to a hotbed of talented individuals and so it comes as no surprise that many of them are young athletes, pursuing the highest level of their respective sports. These young athletes have grown up in or near a world-class resort town with Olympic venues at their fingertips, but that doesn’t change the energy and hard work required to compete among the best in the world.

With goals like the Olympics and the IFSA North American Junior Championships, much of their time is dedicated to their sports. We caught up with a few sliding and skiing athletes to find out more about their lives as young people in their sports and what they have set their sights on as they move from their home training base of Whistler to venues all over the world, chasing their dreams.

Tirza Lara – Skeleton

Skeleton athlete Tirza Lara about to set off on the track at the Whistler Sliding Centre.
Tirza Lara on the track at Whistler Sliding Centre. PHOTO NOAH LARA

Age: 21
Home: Whistler, born in Calgary, AB.

How did you start sliding?

I did ballet for over 10 years until I was forced to quit due to a knee injury. I wanted to stay committed to something, so I decided to look into sliding sports. I was too old for luge and too small for bobsleigh, so skeleton seemed like a good choice. For my 16th birthday, I asked to do the Discover Skeleton experience at the Whistler Sliding Center, and I was instantly hooked. I was invited to stay the following season and the rest is history.

What does a typical season look like for you?

Every season begins on the Whistler track with Team Canada selections. This year I’m traveling on the North American Circuit. The first race is in Whistler, then Park City, UT, and then Lake Placid, NY. When I’m not competing, I’m back in Whistler fine-tuning my skills on my home track. Typically we’re on ice five times a week, with gym three to five times on top of that.

What are some of your future goals?

Competing and being successful at the Olympics is the big dream, but for now, I’m looking forward to getting comfortable competing on different tracks and on my new sled.

Name an athlete that you look up to and why.

Skeleton athlete Clara Hughes. I can relate to her story growing up because she came from a similar family background to me. She faced a lot of obstacles but remained genuine and dedicated to her path. Watching her dominate in competition and witnessing the legacy she’s created inspires me to keep pushing when things are tough. If she could do it, so can I.

What’s your favourite part of being in Whistler?

It’s such an active, beautiful and exciting community to live in. Everyone I’ve met so far is committed to chasing the stoke, whether it’s carving out snow on the slopes or hitting the trails. It’s a good purpose that unifies people, given how everyone rallies together for events such as Crankworx or simply cheering someone on as they land a jump. As a skeleton athlete that pursues adrenaline for a living, I feel I fit right in.

Where can we usually find you when you are in Whistler?

When I’m not on the track or in the gym you can find me hunkered down at Forecast Coffee working on my bachelor’s degree in Human Science.

Ryder Bulfone – Freeride Skiing

Freeskiing athlete, Ryder Bulfone tackling a steep peak on Whistler Blackcomb.
Freeride Skier Ryder Bulfone tackles the steep peaks of Whistler Blackcomb. PHOTO RICK MELOFF

Age: 20
Home: Squamish

How did you start skiing?

My parents got me on skis at the youngest age possible. Our family was based in the ski town of Rossland and skiing was a big part of living there. My parents grew up there, moved away, then moved back to raise us. When they were ready for a change, we moved to Squamish.

What does a typical season look like for you?

Lots of skiing! Most of my teen years were spent skiing and shredding Whistler Blackcomb in a big crew. Whether it was during the Whistler Freeride Club or out during a random weekday, my favourite skiing is in a big group, finding fun lines and things to jump off. It’s fun skiing with a bunch of people and having everyone push each other to become better. I have done many competitions in the past and plan to keep that going on some level; as stressful as they can be, it’s fun to challenge yourself (and get stressed out) once in a while.

What are some of your future goals?

Ideally, I’d like to steer away from competitions and get more involved with ski film projects. I also really like creating my own type of content so I would like to move towards creating and producing projects in which I can also ski.

Name an athlete that you look up to and why.

Mike Douglas. He’s now in his 50’s and completely shreds! Not only that but he’s managed to keep his own professional ski career still going strong. Very inspiring! But Whistler local and legendary skier Eric Hjorleifson and his wife Jen Ashton are also people I have always modeled my turns and style after.

What’s your favourite part of skiing Whistler Blackcomb?

The vast terrain and the variety keeps the skiing fun for years on end. There’s always a new line or stash to find!

Where can we usually find you when you are in Whistler?

On Whistler Blackcomb skiing or biking some obscure line that other people usually don’t see!

Talia Wittenberg – Freestyle Skiing

A photo of Talia Sicotte.
A rare, non-skiing photo of Freestyle Skiing athlete Talia Wittenberg. PHOTO TALIA SICOTTE

Age: 15
Home: Whistler, BC

How did you start skiing?

My parents are big fans of the outdoors and started teaching me how to ski at the age of three!

What does a typical season look like for you?

I train with the Whistler Freeride Club on Saturdays and Sundays, and skip school on powder days! For competing I do all the competitions in Whistler and usually, go out to Kicking Horse Resort and Red Mountain Ski Resort.

What are some of your future goals?

My goal would definitely be to compete in the NorAm Circuit which is a series of races put on by the International Ski Federation and gives athletes a chance to go from there to a world stage. I’d also like to spend more time in the backcountry.

Name an athlete that you look up to and why.

I really look up to professional skier Tatum Monod because she is such a rad female skier. She goes out into the backcountry and does epic ski films.

What’s your favourite part of skiing Whistler Blackcomb?

My favourite part about skiing in Whistler Blackcomb is all the different terrain and being part of the Whistler Freeride Club. Lots of my friends are in the club and we all have so much fun together, the coaches are awesome and there is never a bad day.

Where can we usually find you when you are in Whistler?

Unfortunately, I’m at school five days a week but when I’m not you’ll find me on the hill or on the trails.

Payton Spence – Skeleton

A close up shot of skeleton athlete, Payton Spence makes her way down the Whistler Sliding Centre's Olympic track.
Payton Spence on the track at Whistler Sliding Centre. PHOTO CREDIT IBSF / VIESTURS LĀCIS

Age:15
Home: Squamish, BC

How did you start sliding?

I joined one of the Discovery Sessions at the Whistler Sliding Centre, which are introductory sports programs that let young participants get a taste of sliding sports. I went to a Discover Luge session with my family but was told I was too old to join that program, so I ended up on the Discover Skeleton session. I was also a brakeman for my brother Connor (17) in Bobsleigh, but I loved skeleton the best. I’ve been training for two years now as a skeleton athlete.

What does a typical season look like for you?

Participating in Sniper Winter Camps here in Whistler and Sniper Summer Camps in Alberta. I was just selected this year to join the BCS (Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton) Next Gen team and I’m looking forward to new training and race opportunities.

What are some of your future goals?

Sliding at new tracks and competing for Canada at the YOG (Youth Olympic Games) in Gangwon, South Korea in 2024. Ultimately my biggest goal is the Winter Olympics.

Name an athlete that you look up to and why.

I look up to other sliding athletes like Jane Channell, Mirela Rahneva and Nicole Silverira who are not only incredibly nice, but also help answer questions and go over track lines with me. Micaela Widmer and Joe Cecchini have also played a large part in my success as my coaches.

What’s your favourite part of being in Whistler?

The track. My family and I spend a lot of time here sliding and working. It’s a really great place to work and spend time.

Where can we usually find you when you are in Whistler?

The track. Walking around Whistler Village, sampling baked goods at purebread and snowboarding at Whistler Blackcomb. My favourite trail is the Jersey Cream bowl on Blackcomb Mountain.

Skeleton athlete, Payton Spence makes her way down the Whistler Sliding Centre's Olympic track.
Payton completing the last corner of the Olympic sliding track in Whistler. PHOTO CREDIT IBSF / VIESTURS LĀCIS

If this has you inspired to see some sliding athletes in action check out the Eberspächer Luge World Cup happening at the Whistler Sliding Centre on December 9 and 10, 2022. Athletes from over 20 countries will be hitting speeds of up to 130 kilometres per hour as they compete. Tickets are available at the gates on event days at $10 per adult (kids 12 and under are free).

The sliding experiences are not just for young guns, adults can take to the track with the public skeleton and piloted bobsleigh programs too! This post might also have encouraged you to up the ante on the ski hill, and to get you there consider a lesson or camp with pros who can help.

All the best to our young athletes as they push themselves this winter! We will be cheering them on as they go.

Book your summer stay between May 1 and October 31, 2024, and save up to 25% on lodging and 15% on activities. Plus, you’ll receive a free $100 Activity Voucher on stays of 3 or more nights. Secure your mountain getaway with Whistler.com for personalized service and the local knowledge of our Whistler-based team. If this post has you dreaming about Whistler, enter our Feel It All in Whistler summer contest to win a trip for two!

Author

Hailey came to Whistler for a season and never left. Now, the local community, world-class mountain biking, and endless adventures are what keep her feet firmly planted in the mountains. When Hailey isn't writing, she can be found on a trail, photographing other athletes in action or working freelance as a digital strategist and content developer. Hailey's favourite mountain bike trail is Hey Bud on Blackcomb.