The Alpine Skiing World Cup returns to Canada after a pandemic hiatus with something more.
A third race joins the men’s downhill and super-G in Lake Louise, Alta., Which traditionally opens the international sprint season.
The first of two runs will be on Friday at the Banff National Park ski resort west of Calgary, followed by a second super-G on Saturday and Sunday.
The Men’s and Women’s World Cups in Alberta were canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their absence has been painful for the local economy and a disappointment for the Alpine team of Canada, as Lake Louise is their home race of the year.
It’s also a mountain where Canadians feel right at home, having grown up competing in development races on the same track.
Alpine skiing was a snow sport that had a near-normal season last winter during the pandemic, but also held Canadians back in Europe for months.
The Canadian men exited the starting cabin above Lake Louise’s Sunset Gully on Tuesday in the first of three practice races scheduled for Friday’s highly anticipated opening game.
“It’s a big deal for me,” said Torontonian Jack Crawford. “It’s a place we’ve been fortunate enough to ski year after year for years and we know the slope so well. It is a place where we are comfortable.
“It’s also one of the best runs I think to start the year. It’s fast. It’s hard to win, but it’s not necessarily the most terrifying for us because we’ve had the chance to ski it so many times.
“You also have your family around you. You have more to do, but it never feels like a chore. You are on your native hill. You have friends and family on the trail. “
The runners want to be named to their respective country’s Olympic teams for Beijing in February.
Lake Louise is the starting point of this journey for world specialists in alpine racing speed.
While the men’s extra downhill is new this year, the women arriving next week will run two downhills and a super-G for a 13th year.
The retirements of world champion Erik Guay and world championship medalists Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Dustin Cook in recent years have left a Canadian men’s downhill team with an average age of 24 trying to climb The levels.
Crawford and Brodie Seger, of Whistler, BC, posted exceptional performances just outside the medals at the February world championship in Cortina, Italy.
Crawford was fourth in alpine combined and Seger fourth in super-G.
Broderick Thompson of Whistler, brother of Olympic ski cross champion Marielle Thompson, is the oldest on the team at 27. He is however younger in the racing years, having lost two to knee injuries in 2018.
Cameron Alexander of North Vancouver, BC, is recovering from a knee injury sustained during last year’s first downhill in Val-d’Isère, France.
Sam Mulligan of Vancouver, 24, has competed in half a dozen World Cup races during his career.
The men’s sprint team is overseen by former world downhill champion John Kucera of Calgary. He won gold at the Lake Louise super-G 15 years ago and finished second in the event in 2008.
“What’s really good about Lake Louise for this particular group because they’re young and we’re still getting experience on a lot of other trails around the world is where we have that experience with the Nor-Am and a World Cup preview, ”Kucera said.
The host country obtains additional quota places in the World Cups. Kucera can enter up to eight Canadians in practice races and up to six in races.
“As a home nation, you get a little edge in running other athletes or younger athletes that you may not be able to run elsewhere based on their world rankings,” Kucera said. “It’s always important to take advantage of it.
Osborne-Paradis was the last Canadian to step onto the podium at Lake Louise in 2014 when he finished second in the downhill.
The podium is the goal, but to be in the top 30 is also coveted.
Ranking in the top 30 means a start number in the top 30 and an advantage over later beginners who ski a more chewy course.
Crawford and Seger are ranked in the top 30 in super-G, but not in downhill.
The Top 30 is also where the prize money is. Men and women receive an equal prize in Lake Louise with 120,000 Swiss francs (CA $ 163,000) for each.
Seger’s last race at Lake Louise was the 2019 super-G when he was 23. He was the 57th starter out of 61, but crossed the finish line in 16th to the delight of Canadian fans.
“It was a very special moment for sure,” Seger said. “The mere fact that we are running home again is very exciting and I can’t wait to have a lot of people I know in the crowd. Some people from the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. family group there.
“After spending all winter last season on the road and without crowds, it’s going to be really special. Especially after these great memories I have from the last time we were here.”
Alpine Canada, as well as the World Skiing Governing Body (FIS), require that all participants, staff and volunteers be vaccinated 14 days before the event and must show proof of vaccination.
Accredited personnel are also required to present proof of a negative PCR test performed within 72 hours of arrival at the event.
Masks are mandatory indoors and in crowded outdoor areas. Athletes will have more space in the Lake Louise cabin to put on their equipment while keeping a distance from others.
The first World Cup races at Lake Louise were held in 1980. The resort became an annual stop on the international circuit after 1992.