The BC Winter Games are just around the corner and the Bulkley Valley will be well represented at the event, which takes place in Mission from Feb. 20 to 23.
Twenty-four athletes from the area will compete against 1,800 athletes from around the province in six different disciplines.
The theme from local coaches, across the board, is that the event will be an excellent opportunity for young athletes to get a sense of what a games-style competition is like.
“We just want to go there and have some fun and get to attend a big event with a ceremony, because some of these kids have never had the chance to do that before,” Ski and Snowboard Club head coach Jan Wengelin said.
“You get to fly down there, they pick you up from the airport, they raise the flag. It’s like the Olympics, but on a smaller scale.”
Wengelin will bring a team of eight skiers between the ages of 12 to 14 down with him when the team boards their charter on Feb. 19.
They will compete in both the grand slalom and the ski cross on back-to-back days, Saturday and Sunday in the Hemlock Valley, which lies an hour east of Mission.
Wengelin thinks they’ve got a shot at bringing home some hardware, though.
“I think some of the athletes have the potential to go to the podium, but if they do, it’s the feather in the cap. These games are supposed to be fun more than anything.”
Unfortunately, the BC Winter Games still don’t have a snowboarding competition, which means many of his students at the Ski and Snowboard Club won’t make the journey.
“I would imagine they are disappointed. Honestly I don’t know why they don’t have it yet, maybe they are afraid of change. It’s crazy.”
Joining Wengelin and the skiers from Hudson Bay Mountain are three biathletes and two cross country skiers.
The biathletes will head down to Mission to begin the games, but quickly pack their skis and rifles and head up to Whistler for their competition.
It’s a course that three of the athletes are familiar with, having already raced on it once this year.
The club returned in January with eight podium finishes between them, despite having to race in some less-than-perfect conditions.
Defending 2012 BC Winter Games champion Angus Tweedie will be joined by first-timers Amanda Wilson and Seton Kriese.
“They have had a good winter of training out here, so I think they have great chance at doing well,” head coach Peter Tweedie said.
“But I will be happy if they come away feeling positive about the effort that they put in.
“Their final result is just a nice add on to a well-skied, well-participated event.”
The Smithers Cross Country Club will be represented by Alexander Weme and Travis Pete.
Cross country athletes will compete in midget and juvenile categories.
There is an individual sprint race (400m) and an individual start (3.5km or 5km), as well as team relays (4x2km).
From a team sport standpoint, three Smithers hockey players will join the northwest zone girls U-14 team in Mission.
Wynona Cryke, Hannah Pow and Chloe Wray all travelled to Terrace to try out for the club in early January.
The team won’t have much practice time before they go, though. They’ll meet up in Terrace the day before leaving for Mission and get one final ice session in before the games begin.
“I am really excited,” Pow, who also plays for the Rugged Edge Storm, said. “I think we all are. It’s going to be a great experience.”
In addition to the traditional winter sports, both judo and gymnastics are also a part of the games.
The Saltos Gymnastics Club will have the second largest contingent of athletes travelling to Mission with seven.
Five girls will compete in four different disciplines (Vault, bars, beam and floor), and the boys will compete in six (floor, vault, high bar, rings, parallel bars and pummel horse).
Head coach Alana Jensen echoed the feelings of her fellow coaches
“I’m hoping they perform well,” Jensen said.
“And hopefully this experience will help them prepare for future games experiences.”
Unlike most gymnastics competitions, there are no age groupings for the gymnasts; the competition puts nine-year-olds against 14-year-olds.
As such, Jensen isn’t concerned with where they end up in the standings.
Finally, three martial artists form the Smithers Judo Club will hit the mat in Mission.
They will compete at three different weight classes against six to seven different athletes representing each of the eight B.C. zones.
As well, former games athlete Sy-Yez Wilson will help coach the team this year.
For judo, the BC Winter Games acts as a qualification tournament for the Canada junior games, which take place in Quebec later this spring.
Coach Bernie Mattie is hoping some of his athletes make it.
“They made it last year, and they’ve worked their butts off practicing and fundraising to get there, but of course the main goal is just that they enjoy themselves. Games like these are one of the first steps for the long-term athlete development model.”
In preparation for the games, Team BC judo head coach Bruce Kamstra recently travelled to Smithers from Prince George for an instructional day.
The athletes will leave together on Feb. 19 and return the day after the games end, on Feb. 24