Members of the Grouse Mountain Tyee Ski Club tested out their brand new racing centre over the holiday break and from all reports, the run is a little bit terrifying.
That’s music to the ears of club communications director Michael Kuss, who was there documenting the first runs at the racing centre that has been under construction for the past two years but has been in the dreams of some club members for a lifetime. The new slope is carved into the old Blazes trail, giving rise to the name Blazes Race Centre. Given the early reports from athletes who tested out the new run, Blazes is an appropriate name.
“It’s technically difficult, and it’s steep too,” said Kuss. “Talking to some of the athletes that were running the course on the weekend, they, to a person, said ‘it’s scary.’ In ski racing, I think that’s good. That’s what you’re going to run into when you go to any of these world-class hills, not just in Canada but in the U.S. and around the world. It’s got to be steep, it’s got to be hard-packed and there’s got to be a bit of a fear factor there.”
The racing centre, which includes a hut at the bottom of the run, is the result of a lot of planning and hard work put in by club members who for years have wished for a dedicated space on Grouse for training and competitions. Many of the people who helped get Blazes running are former team members who now have children in the club, said Kuss.
“It’s sort of been a dream of them forever to have a dedicated race run that is of the quality that you could theoretically host a World Cup event there,” he said. “A couple of years ago some of the members said we can make this happen. … They got some funding together, blasted out part of the hill, reshaped the slope and with donations and thousands of volunteer hours built a race hut.”
Construction began in 2014 and involved a massive effort to move rocks and shape the slope.
The centre also includes new lighting on the run as well as high-tech, permanent timing systems and monitors. It was slated to open last year but the weather didn’t co-operate – all the B.C. coastal resorts were left staring through rain at mostly bare hills.
This year, however, the snow arrived early and often, and Kuss confirmed that it was worth the wait. Several of the province’s top youth skiers were on hand last week as the new centre officially opened.
“To see them come down over the pitch and running a full GS slope on the course was unbelievable,” said Kuss. “The run is so steep in the middle section that you have to have a special type of groomer that hooks onto a platform and you can pull it up and down the hill to groom that part of the slope. … The run is truly world class and the facility is too. You can just hook in for timing and there are inside and outside monitors in the race hut to analyze runs and host events. It seemed so far-fetched until now that it’s done.”
Sam Mulligan, an 18-year-old provincial team racer who started skiing with the Tyee club when he was 10, raved about the new centre.
“I wish I had that when I was racing here,” he stated in a release, adding that this will give Tyee racers every opportunity to compete against any club in Canada. “No excuse to come from Grouse knowing they (will) have equal opportunity to succeed here.”
The set-up is the first of its kind on the North Shore, offering skiers opportunities that were formerly only available at bigger resorts like Whistler and Sun Peaks. The Blazes run will be open to the public when not being used for training sessions or races.
The club is hoping that the racing centre will accomplish a number of goals, with improved athlete training and performance at the top of the list.
“The club has always produced really strong athletes, but often at the higher levels those athletes have felt that they’ve had to move on to bigger clubs and bigger mountains to train,” said Kuss. “To be able to keep those athletes training and very competitive to the highest age group levels is really important, and I think that’s going to happen.”
Kuss said he believes Tyee athletes should now be able to ski right off their team onto the international stage.
“When the Tyee racers now are going off to these events, they’re prepared,” he said. “They’ve seen steep and they’ve seen icy and well-groomed and well-set courses that they get to train on on a weekly basis. … That’s going to help the athletes that are in the club now, but it’s also going to help to grow the club. People won’t feel they need to go somewhere else to get high-level training.”
A longer term goal is to bring high-level races to Grouse Mountain. Kuss estimated that within a few years the Blazes centre could host NorAm level races – one step below the World Cup – and, in time, could even welcome the likes of Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Lindsey Vonn.
“There have been World Cup events held at Grouse in the past, but a long, long time ago,” said Kuss. “The long-term goal is to host a world-class event. The facility is there and the support is there from Grouse Mountain, so the potential for that to happen is definitely in the cards.”