Bichon, Graham get their first taste of World Cup racing

Prince George athletes Evan Bichon and Colby Graham have crossed similar paths in their climb to the top of the snowboardcross circuit.

Both won Canada Games medals in their chosen sport - Bichon was the gold medalist in 2015 when Prince George hosted the Games and Graham captured silver last year in Red Deer, Alta. - and both used that podium experience as a springboard to success in the North American Cup series.

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Bichon finished second overall in the series last season and Graham was a NorAm bronze medalist last March when the series stopped at Big White resort near Kelowna. They are there this weekend and will try to qualify Friday for what will be their first-ever World Cup tour event in Canada.

Bichon, part of Canada's development team, raced two World Cup events in December. Out of pack of 65 racers he placed 44th in Montefon, Austria and was 47th in Cervinia, Italy.

"They were awesome experiences, I didn't get the results I was hoping for at those ones, but I'm feeling pretty good about the race at home now," said the 21-year-old Bichon. "You get to put the skills you've been working on forever against the best in the world and see how you're seeded against everyone.

"It's super special. My parents and Colby's parents have never seen us race in a World Cup before and getting to see us in person is going to be awesome experience for them and us. My goal is definitely top-32, which is one of the criteria to be on the national team, and if I can do better than that, great. I want to do the best I can this season because next year's the Olympic qualifiers."

The forecast for Big White calls for snow the next few days and fog will be likely as well.

"The snow brings fog so visibility will be variable," said Bichon. "But that's what we get usually at Big White. That might give us an edge because we've been doing fog races at Big White the last seven years."

Bichon will be going head-to-head against the 18-year-old Graham at Big White but he won't be racing the other Prince George connection, 22-year-old Meryeta O'Dine, who is racing with the women.

"It's awesome seeing a familiar face everywhere you go, we've worked together the whole time growing up in the sport," said Bichon.

O'Dine, Carle Brenneman of Comox, Zoe Bergermann of Acton, Ont., and Tess Critchlow of Kelowna make up the female half of Canada's national team. Eliot Grondin of Sainte-Marie, Que.,and Kevin Hill of Vernon are the two male national team members.

Bichon's second-overall NorAm finish and Graham NorAm medal last year earned them personal spots for the World Cup season.

Graham is still a provincial team member but he's on a rapid track to make the development team next season. He placed 59th at Montefon, his first World Cup race. He was in Cervinia the following week but qualifying was canceled by the weather and only the top-48 in the points standings advanced to the race.

Graham, one of the youngest Word Cup racers, started the season Nov. 30 at a FIS race in Finland with a 15th-place finish. He competed last year at junior world championships in Austria but finished a disappointing 33rd while still recovering from a concussion and broken wrist he sustained in the halfpipe event at Canada Games.

Bichon has development team funding, which pays some of the entry fees, but he's responsible for covering his own flights and accommodation, as is Graham.

Right now I still have to pay 100 per cent of my season," said Graham. "There's definitely not a lot of money in the sport unless you're winning. The help from my family has been strong. I try to do a lot of it on my own. I work at Local Rental Solutions in Prince George during the summer and between races and approach sponsors and things like that."

Bichon spent the first half of his life in Mackenzie and moved to Prince George to further his snowboard career. Graham was born and raised in Prince George and his mother Mandi is executive director of Engage Sport North, the Canadian Sport School all three Prince George racers attended.

Bichon and Graham are vying for top-32 finishes in the men's qualifying round Friday which consists of two races against the clock. The top-16 after the first run do not have to race a second run. Only the top-16 women make the cut.

The mixed-gender team event Sunday will involve the top two snowboardcrossers from each country. The female racer starts first down the hill and her male teammate waits at the top of the hill until the female's transponder trips the circuit at the finish line, which causes the gate to drop at the top to start the male racer on the course.

"I've only done one team event, at the (2016 Youth Olympics in Lillehammmer, Norway), but it's a real cool addition to our sport," said Bichon.

 

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