2020 was a forgettable year on so many levels, but at least we have ski racing … sort of. The season is young, in fact club programs across Canada are in various levels of shut down or start up, depending on provincial health guidelines and travel restrictions. In Ontario, ski clubs are mostly closed due to province-wide shutdown orders. In Quebec, Alberta and B.C., club programs started up in December with no racing or travelling. Either way, we’re all looking forward to sunnier days. In that spirit, here are a few things to look forward to in 2021.
1. FIS racing will get off the ground.
We have to hand it to FIS, they pulled off a small miracle that any form of ski racing is happening. I’m not sure about you but in the early Fall when news of a “second wave” of the global pandemic was making its rounds I was pondering the probability of a season somewhere in the “snowball’s chance in hell” range. The World Cup races, with all the heartache, resilience, setbacks, triumphs and drama gave the ski racing world hope. Now it’s time for regional FIS racing to start, in whatever form it can, for the next wave of racers to maintain progress and validate all the hard work they’ve put in.
2. Hahnenkahm 2021 ignites a fire.
The notorious, dangerous, wicked, insane Hahnenkahm is the most thrilling ski race in the world. With unforgivingly-steep blind drops, chop-infested sidehills and crazy helmet-rattling speeds, the Streif is not for the faint of heart, nor the inexperienced. The young Canadian team will tackle the 81st installment of the downhill, super-G and slalom (on the Ganslernhang course) from Jan. 18-24th. With injuries to Canadians Brodie Seger and Cam Alexander, Jack Crawford and Jeff Read lead the way for the early-20s team, finishing 39th and 33rd respectively in the 2020 Hahnenkahm, near in the Austrian village of Kitzbuhel. Crawford finished in the points (24th) in the 2020 super-G and will take experience learned from the past five years on the world’s toughest downhill track, along with a solid 23rd place finish in Bormio, Italy, last weekend. Broderick Thompson will start the Hahnenkahm for the first time since 2018 and Ben Thomsen, racing independently, will tackle the Streif for the eighth time. Thomsen has seven top 30 finishes at Kitzbuhel, including a 6th place finish in the downhill in 2019.
3. Erik Read scores a WC podium in January.
The January World Cup schedule is packed for the tech racers, with stops in Zagreb, Adelboden, Wengen, Kitzbuhel, Schladming and Chamonix. With growing confidence Erik Read appears poised to claim his first World Cup medal, particularly in GS. Is Adelboden, Switzerland, the place and time?
4. Mitch becomes a downhiller.
Marie-Michèle Gagnon is a tech skier. Right? With 100 top 30 World Cup finishes (yes, 100!) and 82 of those coming from tech events it’s a head scratcher to see Mitch racing downhills at this later stage of her career. But damn, she’s good! When the Canadian veteran, from Lac-Etchemin, Quebec, finished a career-best 10th in the women’s downhill in Val d’Isere, France, just before Christmas it further fuelled her belief. “You sometimes see skiers, especially on the men’s side, start winning [speed events] at 30 years old,” the 31 year-old said before the season. “It’s a patience game with the speed events because you need mileage on the hill and experience.” After the Val d’Isere result she added, “I’ve been consistently fast and solid on my skis and comparing myself to the girls who are winning right now and being right in there.” Sounds like confidence to me.
5. Brodie Seger makes a comeback … soon.
The loss of the emerging leader of the Canadian men’s speed team to a shoulder injury must surely be felt by his teammates and coaches. But the North Vancouver and Whistler Mountain Ski Club product with tree trunks for thighs is eyeing a return “as soon as possible”.
6. St-Germain, Mielzynski share a podium.
Ok this one could be a stretch, but the Canadian women’s tech team has four women in the world’s top 30. With upstart Laurence St-Germain holding the 7th spot in slalom and veteran Erin Mielzynski close behind in 13th, it is a possibility this is the year that Canadian women share a World Cup podium in slalom. The next slalom races are in Zagreb, Croatia, on Jan. 3rd and Flachau, Austria on Jan. 12th.
7. Broderick Thompson finishes in the points, twice.
I’ve called him “the best ski racer that you’ve never heard of” in a previous editorial and I stick by that. The gruesome training crash in November 2018 that sidelined him for the better part of two years happened at a time when he was starting to challenge then-team leaders Erik Guay and Manny Osborne-Paradis as the fastest Canadian speed racer. With a rebuilt leg, knee and most importantly, confidence, the soft-spoken and talented Whistler racer is getting desperately-needed mileage and his race legs under him and appears ready to start moving up the leaderboard.
8. National team is 40% larger before next season.
When Phil McNichol, Alpine Canada’s high performance director and former U.S. ski team head coach, gave us a math lesson on what it takes to win the Nations Cup he outlined the importance of volume and numbers. The bigger the team, the better the performance. Simple stuff. Essentially, 25 racers scoring an average of 240 points each are needed to land in the top 3 World Cup ski nations. The Swiss team currently has 96 skiers on its roster … the Canadians have 18. Adding 40% would bring a roster size to 26.
It’s a big mountain to climb, but McNichol spoke pre-season about changes needed. The primary goal, he said, is to develop and re-define the national development pathway and to set up a collaborative environment within Canada’s vast and complex walls. “The Canadian [system] is not integrated and not set up as a national alpine program,” he stated frankly in an interview with Ski Racing Media in August. “We’re not collaborating at all really, to be honest, and it’s shocking. There’s no national conference, there’s no ongoing forums to talk about implementation of national philosophies and provincial adaptations to integrate a fluid system.”
9. The troops are on their way: Next Gen making waves
It’s been an impossible early season to know where the Next Gen stack up. With the cancellation of the December NorAms, coaches and athletes are flying blind in terms of Canada/USA head to head. But the Moccasin Telegraph (word of mouth) is reporting a few young Canucks are skiing impressively fast. Riley Seger, Kyle Alexander and Asher Jordan, all from Vancouver, as well as Banff’s Liam Wallace are leading an emerging group of multi-discipline racers. On the women’s side, Sarah Bennett and Justine Clément lead the next wave of strong Quebec tech skiers, while Cassidy Gray, from Invermere, and racing for Alberta appear ready to make the jump to the next level.
10. My informants will continue to keep me informed.
It’s no secret that good journalists have great informants. Those with ears to the ground and radios on the hip, and you know who you are, I thank you.