WHISTLER, BC – The Dave Murray National Training Centre starts with a flat, cruising section before jumping into a slope with skis cutting through the snow that dusts Whistler Mountain’s Ptarmigan run.
Those sessions and the hoards of young athletes lining up at the chair below have influenced Canadian ski racing for generations. While the run has changed, the cabin, housing the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, has been the second home for many of Canada’s top skiers through the years.
For Dawson Yates, a former WMSC member and Team Canada athlete for Lake Placid 2023, there’s an aura of confidence that percolates throughout the club. Those jackets, adorned in red and black, have been the first team wear of several of Canada’s best skiers.
FIS Alpine World Cup medalists Jack Crawford and Manny Osborne-Paradis, as well as Olympic ski cross champions Marielle Thompson and Ashleigh McIvor, have all worn those jackets at one point, putting Whistler and the club among the best in the world.
“There’s a lot of pride coming from Whistler and the ski club there. Everyone knows the mountain, and the club sets the standards really high,” Yates told 49 Sports ahead of the FISU Games.
“You grow up watching so many athletes that are so good that you have those role models and inspiration around you every day.”
The 22-year-old, who hasn’t raced yet for Canada, will represent his nation at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games, earning his second nod to the Games after being named to the roster for Lucerne 2021’s eventually cancelled races.
Currently a student-athlete at Montana State University, Yates races on the NCAA circuit with several other athletes heading to the Games. He has also competed on NorAm Cup circuits and made his mark on the Australia New Zealand Cup in 2022.
For the FISU Games, however, there’s a chance to place himself among the best promising Canadians in the sport, particularly in the tech events of slalom and giant slalom, where now-former NCAA athletes shine for the Canadian national teams.
“I was bummed when the races and Games in [Lucerne] were cancelled last season; it would have been my first time racing in Switzerland,” he said, missing out on the chance to race in the storied venue of Stoss. “I’m even more excited for Lake Placid, though.”
Although he hasn’t worn the maple leaf in the past, he’s raced against global competition, skiing at the Whistler Cup, widely considered as one of the two premier youth races around the world, the other being Topolino in Italy. Select athletes represent national teams, while every WMSC member earns a spot
Canada’s world cup athletes paved NCAA path
NCAA alpine racing hasn’t been the traditional path for Canada’s skiers. Still, Erik Read, Trevor Philp, and women’s team members Ali Nullmeyer and Cassidy Gray have started to alter the usual course. National Team member Riley Seger is also a Montana athlete outside of his World Cup and NorAm races.
Now, there’s a clear pathway from thriving in the NCAA to making an impact on the world cup, which Yates aims to follow.
“So many of Canada’s good tech skiers are skiing in or have skied in the NCAA, so it was a big motivator to try and get there after the gap year I had,” Yates said. “I got a lot of exposure to the U.S. programs during that gap year with a team in Colorado, and it was a game of musical chairs to join a school because there are so few open spots.”
After joining the Montana State Bobcats, Yates has cracked the top 10 six times, three each in both G.S. and slalom. Meanwhile, he races on the NorAm circuit, competing outside his NCAA races.
His best-ever NorAm result came earlier this season in Beaver Creek, Colorado, when he qualified for the second run of a G.S. to finish in 23rd. Yet, last season, he cracked the top 20 in the Canadian National Championship tech events, finishing 19th in the G.S. and 12th in slalom.
Ahead of the FISU Games, he’ll compete in NorAm races in Vermont, allowing him to refine his form ahead of what could be a career-defining week to this point in Lake Placid.
While the results may have just started to show in recent months, Yates has circled the 2022-23 season on his calendar for years. In the summer, he seeked winter by competing and training in New Zealand and also did a preseason on-snow camp at Copper Mountain in Colorado ahead of his, to this point, career-defining Noram races.
“I wanted to gain as much as I could from the summer and the block we had at Copper [Mountain,]” he said from Quebec as he acclimatized himself to east coast snow. “We have a full-time workout program in the offseason from our strength coach that I went through over the summer. So in the fall, when the whole team is together in Bozeman, Montana, we work together six days a week leading into the season.”
Although he is tentative about starting the super-G at the FISU Games, Yates has his sights set on the podium in the slalom, G.S., as well as the mixed team event, where Canadians could make some noise.
Yet, regardless of the final result at Whiteface Mountain, Yates continues the strong tradition of Whistler Mountain Ski Club athletes representing Canada against the world. For now, it’s not the Olympic Games or World Cup, but it’s a step closer, and a legacy continues.