The annual Whistler Cup international children’s race took place last week with the fastest U14 and U16 racers from across the globe converging on the iconic Canadian resort for a weekend of intense competition.
Whistler Cup has traditionally been one of the first times racers of that age are exposed to international competition, with many current U.S. Ski Team racers getting their first international starts at the event in past years. The United States fielded a team for the third year in a row after a six-year break from the event.
Spring weather in British Columbia can be unpredictable and athletes were presented with nearly every challenge imaginable with, fog, snow, rain, and sunshine all making an appearance throughout the series. Given the challenging weather, course preparation was top-notch with racers wearing bibs into the triple digits routinely making jumps into the top 30 for the second run.
“Every day we were there, there were three events going on at different locations with three separate crews running the events,” said U16 project leader Jeff Pickering. “We had full alpine conditions, we had rain, we had sun, we had snow, we had everything and I heard that after 27 years of running this event that it was the best surface in at least the past 15 years.”
Action got underway on Thursday, April 11, with the U16 men’s and women’s super-G races.
In the women’s race, the Americans were led by Tianna Bruce in fifth place, 2.12 second behind race winner, Arianna Forget of Canada. Bruce was followed closely by her teammate Kjersti Moritz in sixth place for two Americans in the top 10. For the men, Nolan Sweeny led the team in sixth place, 1.45 seconds off of gold medalist Johs Herland of Norway. Nick Kirwood finished just outside of the top 10 in 12th place.
“For me, this event re-lit a fire in my coaching,” continued Pickering. “I’ve been to Whistler as a coach for other events but I had never been to the Whistler Cup. The kids loved it; everything that happened on the hill, everything that happened engaging with the kids from other countries, the competition, and off the hill as well. For these kids to integrate and mix up with other kids that they’ve never even seen on a mountain that most of them have never even been to is invaluable. It’s the first stage of international competition for them.”
“This event has had a positive impact on all athletes that attended,” added U14 project leader Troy Price. “The value is in that it inspires them to work even harder. The collective group of athletes, coaching staff, and parents all bring this experience back to their home club and therefore the experience reaches many more athletes. These athletes becoming the next World Cup athletes is not the focus, our focus is to provide an international experience that inspires our athletes as they push into their U16 and FIS years.”
Friday’s racing saw U16 giant slalom and U14 women’s slalom on the program. For the U14 women, Canada swept the podium with the top American, Ava Schweiger, finishing in 11th place. The U16 women saw Bruce lead the way for the Americans once more, finishing in fifth place for the second race in a row. Victoria Clancy finished in seventh place and Moritz in ninth. Kirwood led the Americans in the men’s race with an eighth-place finish. Kirwood landed in eighth place in the men’s race as the top American finisher.
In Saturday’s U14 men’s GS, Daniel Ferucci finished with a solid top-five finish in fifth place and was joined in the top 10 by Max Jarvie and Atticus Sanders in eighth and tenth place, respectively. The U16 women’s slalom saw Bruce finish just off the podium in fourth place with Clancy finding the top-15 in 14th place.
The U16 men’s slalom saw Kirwood land on the podium in third place for the United State’s first medal of the series. According to the coaching staff, the young American may very well have walked away with the gold if it weren’t for an unfortunate error in his second run.
“You never know what’s going to happen but he would have won the slalom,” said Pickering of Kirwood’s performance. “He fell in his second run and was still only 1.5 out.”
The final day of racing proved to be a nail-biter as the U14s led the way for the Stars and Stripes in the women’s GS with Schweiger finishing in second place for a silver medal. Schweiger was followed closely by teammate Carly Hamilton just off the podium in fourth place. A third American, Cayla Cushard, finished in eighth place for three Americans in the top 10. The U14 men were no slouches either as Ferucci took gold in the slalom, eking out the win by only 0.18 seconds over Japan’s Neo Kamada. Peyton Wells finished in 12th place for a solid top-15 result.
“I give a lot of credit to Jim Hudson and Bucky McDonald, they were the two coaches on the women’s side,” said Price. “The women had kind of an up-and-down series where they got bumped out of the team event but they were able to build some character and work as a team and I think that really helped them succeed in the GS.”
Sunday’s racing for the U16s was the team event where the United States actually fielded two teams — one of all American racers and a combined team with the Norwegian contingent, a cooperation that started early in the series.
“It was really cool, we teamed up with them pretty much for the whole project,” Pickering said. “Course reports for super-G, the whole deal. It was really fun and the kids really integrated well with their kids and the staff was great. It was a very open communication that started in the first 30 minutes we were on snow.”
Although the two teams finished off of the podium in sixth and seventh place in the duals, the athletes were exposed to the excitement of dual racing on an international level, something not too many kids their age can say they’ve been a part of.
On the U14 side, the athletes participated in a new event called team relay where two 6-person teams would compete head-to-head against each other with each athlete starting as soon as the one in front of them crossed the finish and the first team to finish all six racers moving on. The U14s finished in a tie for fourth for men and sixth for women. Team USA also walked away with the overall team title for U14s, capping off an impressive weekend of racing for the United States.
“It’s such an honor to hear your national anthem,” Price said. “We had a team meeting scheduled directly after that and it was such an incredible experience to see all of the athletes, staff, and parents elated with pride from representing their country at that event.”
To see full results from the 2019 Whistler Cup, please click here.