Well, today was my first day back on snow after a long (too long) 6 month break. And what can I say, there is nothing better than the day where you buckle up your boots, strap on your helmet, and load the lift for the first time every season.
How was the skiing? Well, to tell you the complete truth, it wasn’t great… There are currently 2 main runs open at the Lake Louise Ski Area, both which are full of people and man-made snow. Not exactly what I would call recipe for great skiing! But I have a feeling that with a bit more snow in the next couple of weeks, the skiing with be phenomenal before we know it!
What ended up being really great about today was, aside from the fact that I was finally back skiing, was that the Lake Louise Winterstart World Cup was on. Today was the men’s downhill, and after a week of near minus 30 degree Celsius weather and snow, the sun came out and provided some perfect racing conditions. The course was rock hard with faster snow than we have seen in the last couple of years. With the Austrian Ski Team taking the top three podium spots in the final training run Friday, the crowd was excited to see if they could be knocked off their throne.
Before we get to the action of the day, I would just like to point out how CRAZY the ski racing scene in Canada is. Because ski racing is not nearly as popular in Canada as it is over in Europe, there is a much lower star factor with all of the athletes competing. For instance, this morning I was sitting in the day lodge putting my boots on, and Benjamin Raich of the Austrian Ski Team happened to walk past, followed by numerous other racers who have all stood atop a world cup podium at some point in the past couple of years. So we are talking the best of the best, walking through a day lodge, with no entourage, no screaming fans, and no crowds. This is great for the racers, as they can focus on the race, and not a camera crew following them everywhere, and I know that if I was a true ski enthusiast, I would definitely put Lake Louise on my calendar for next year! I don’t know of anywhere where you can interact as closely with the athletes as the Winterstart World Cup!
The race itself was an interesting one. With the first and oldest racer, Patrik Jearbyn, falling near the top of the course, we knew it was going to be an interesting day. Bib number 7, Johan Clarey from France, put down a blistering time of 1:48.51 to hold the lead through eleven of the top names on the start list. Unfortunately his time for glory was cut short by Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal. Svindal, who can be seen in the 2011 CMH Calendar skiing at the Adamants Lodge doing some off season “training”, unseated Clarey by just two tenths of a second. Immediately following Svindal was Mario Scheiber of Austria, who put down a time identical to that of Svindal. The crowd was in a state of shock as a tie is something you rarely see in a ski race. On a track that is just over three kilometres long with 40 gates, it is easy to see how this rarely happens.
After all the excitement of the tie, it was time for bib 20, Michael Walchhofer of Austria, to tackle the course. Walchhofer skied an incredible lower section of the course; an area where few others seemed to be able to find extra time. In the end, he came in with a time of 1:47.15, which would end up being the fastest run of the day. And so, after bib 20, we were left with the final podium standings with Wachhofer (first), Scheiber (second), and Svindal (second). There were some later bib numbers who put a slight challenge for the podium, most notably Silvan Zurbriggen ( Bib 31, 4th place) of Switzerland, and local Banff boy Jan Hudec of Canada (Bib 42, 11th place).
All in all, it was a great day for racing in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Hopefully the boys aren’t out to late celebrating tonight so that they can be ready to do it all over again in the men’s super g tomorrow at Lake Louise!
And for all of you skiers out there shaking in your boots ready to get out heli-skiing, I can tell you that Alpine Helicopters supplied one of the rescue helicopters for the event today, and getting my boots on while having a bell 407 flying overhead definitely pushed me to the edge of excitement!