Nick Brush and Chris Williamson.

Nick Brush and Chris Williamson.

Paralympic athletes to compete at Panorama

"I think it'll open the eyes of the valley," says former national paralympic team member Nick Brush.

As many as 90 disabled athletes representing up to a dozen countries will hit the slopes at Panorama Mountain Village next March, when the ski hill hosts the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals.

The IPC worlds are the first para-alpine event the resort has hosted, and the first time the event has come to Canada since 2007.

“It’ll be a really, really unique event, and it’ll be something for people to come up and see and to support these amazing athletes,” says Bruce Hamstead, race training and mountain events manager for Panorama.

The alpine skiing competition features male and female athletes with physical disabilities, who compete in  categories based on their functional ability. A special calculation system for results allows athletes with different impairments to compete against each other.

Athletes may compete on single skis, sit-skis or using orthopedic aids, while skiers with visual impairment are guided through the course by sighted skiers.

Though the event is a first for the hill, Panorama has had a connection to the IPC for several years.

Valley-raised athlete Nick Brush spent three seasons with the Canadian paralympic team, as a guide for visually-impaired skier Chris Williamson.

Brush, now based out of North Vancouver and doing athlete development for the Disabled Association of B.C., says he’s excited to see the event he’s competed in come to his home town.

“I think it’s going to be awesome for Panorama, just to have all the disabled athletes there,” he says. “I think it’ll open the eyes of the valley that there are things happening at the ski hill, and opportunities for other people that have disabilities.”

As a guide, Brush skied just in front of his race partner, communicating with him via radio about changes in the course. He says the team dynamic of visually impaired skiing, as well as the 360-degree awareness required as a guide, are just a few of the various challenges unique to para-alpine sports.

“A lot of time, when people hear the word ‘disability’ in a sport they think it’s downsized a bunch and not as fun to watch because they can’t do as much,” he says. “But with IPC skiing you have guys in sit-skis that are going 110 km an hour, and guys on one leg, so it’s actually really fun to watch.”

Hamstead says spectators at Panorama won’t find themselves watching a course much different from that run by able-bodied athletes.

“The start area needs to be different to accommodate the different categories: the sit-skiers and so on,” he explains.

“It’s a little bit different than a normal alpine start, but otherwise they race on the same courses and in the same disciplines as able-bodied athletes.”

The IPC World Cup runs March 13 to 16.