Built on the shoulders of greatness …

The moment remains etched vividly, from my early ski racing memories.

We were gathered at the start of a training course on Eagle Meadow, waiting for an all-clear from the coaches. A form blazed by, floating gracefully on the snow, arcing easy turns as he dove into our course. He powerfully blasted by each gate with a relaxed, easy style that left us in awe. An image to be remembered.

Keith

Image courtesy of the Shepherd Family

The athlete was Keith Shepherd, an original member of Canada’s Alpine Ski Team from the early days when the Team was formed in 1964 at Notre Dame College in Nelson, B.C. He had already represented Canada in World Championship and Olympic competition and was preparing to represent Canada that winter at the 1970 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

For us, he was our hero. Keith was the first member of our club –  the Lake Louise Ski Club – to reach the Canadian Team.

PastedGraphic-1I was always curious to understand how an athlete from Lake Louise, in the 1960’s could have reached the Canadian Ski Team. No surprise it was a family undertaking.

Prior to moving to the lonely outpost of Lake Louise in 1957, Hal Shepherd had learned to ski with Canadian icon Jack-Rabbit Smith-Johansson in the Laurentians. Upon arriving in the Canadian Rockies as Assistant Park Warden for Banff National Park, Hal bought skis for his three older boys – Ian, Keith and Michael (youngest brother Don wasn’t old enough yet) from Johnny Monod, of Monod Sports in Banff and started the Lake Louise Ski & Community Club the following winter. There was not much to do at Lake Louise in the winter. In 1958, the hill had a t-bar and rope tow while also catering to the backcountry ski touring community to Temple and Skoki Lodges.

“Dad made a special arrangement with the teacher (Lake Louise had a one-room school) that Friday phys-ed in the winter would be skiing” recalled Ian Shepherd. “He hired Franz Haas, one of the local Swiss guides. It was off to the hill. It was to give us something to do during the long winter.”

Franz Haas would later return to Switzerland and his daughter Zöe would be named to the Swiss National Team and podium 9 times and win 2 World Cup races.

With the competitive orientation of the Banff Ski Runners just down the road who had a keen competition with the high school team in Jasper, ski racing became a focus. And in short order, the Bow Valley became a hotbed of ski racing talent producing National and Olympic Team athletes including Scott and Wayne Henderson, Marilyn Kelly, Stephanie Townsend and Keith Shepherd.

sm_2005-41-41_National_Ski_Team 1968-1969When the Canadian Alpine Ski Team was formally organized in 1964, the western mountains produced a stream of talent that provided the coaches Dave Jacobs, John Platt, Verne Anderson and Al Raine with a strong western representation to compliment an equally strong talent pool emerging from the Laurentians, Quebec City, Outaouais, Collingwood and Thunder Bay.

Keith went on to score three top-10 finishes on the World Cup. He represented Canada in the 1966 World Ski Championships in Portillo, Chile and 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Grenoble, France. Two years later he finished 10th in the alpine combined at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championship in Val Gardena, Italy.

Keith retired from ski racing shortly after and went on to work for Village Lake Louise who was in the midst of a major proposal to re-develop his home mountain. When Parks Canada did not proceed with approval, Keith moved into the field of accounting in Salmon Arm, BC and later in Jasper.

Sadly, last week Ian conveyed  the news to Keith’s teammates and the ski community that our ski club hero passed away on September 8th.

“To me he (Keith) did not mind talking about race technique or tactics’, shared Bert Irwin, a World Cup teammate from Kelowna. “Although most competitor’s preferred privacy on matters of competitive edge. On first encounters on those World Cup downhills in Europe, there were always gravitational oriented interpolations that necessarily had to be worked out to keep bones and body intact. Shep had all this figured out, so kept me safe enough.”

And in reminiscing about Keith, Peter Duncan of Tremblant, Quebec shared, “I’ll remember him as he was in Nelson (at the Team Reunion) last year — low profile, inquisitive, good sense of humor, an all around great teammate and a fantastic ski racer.”

Keith had recently lost his wife, Jane and his mother Norma, and is survived by his children Jordan (Jordy), Landon (Lanny), Erin and Kamia (Kami). Keith was 71.

We will always remember his style on the snow, his quiet example and his gracious friendship as one of the original members of Canada’s Alpine Ski Team.

The original Canadian Alpine Ski Team — Keith Shepherd and an amazing group of women and men, athletes and coaches — were the pioneers who laid the foundation.  The success of many subsequent generations was built on these shoulders of greatness.

Thank you Keith.

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Keith (third from left) with teammates at the Celebration of Life for Canadian Team alumni Emily Ringheim this summer.

Thanks to Ian Shepherd for the family background and details of Keith’s career, to Jordy Shepherd for the action shots of Keith, to Peter Webster for details, fact checking and more photos and to many of Keith’s teammates for their recollections of an important era in the development of Canadian alpine ski racing.

 

 

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Thanks Morgan! You did us proud.

Updated – We all know it takes real passion to invest years into chasing a dream. Fortunately, alpine ski racing is fun and has a tremendous family to support and guide athletes.

There are times, however, where one must dig very deep. to keep that passion alive. To overcome adversity and solider on .IMG_9332

Morgan Megarry is one of those athletes. A remarkably talented young man who devoted five years as a member of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team, achieving the level of representing our country three times at the FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships (2012, 2013 & 2014) with his top result a very respectable 17th place in giant slalom. He also represented Canada in FIS Alpine World Cup competition.

Morgan had to manage injuries for most of his time on the Ski Team. Six bouts of dealing with knee injuries and complications. Some of these, a result from spectacular falls, the most recent coming in December, 2018 in the World Cup GS at Alta Badia, Italy.

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Canada’s World Cup Technical Ski Team training in Zermatt, Switzerland the summer 2017 (L-R: Erik Read, Simon Fournier, Morgan Megarry, Trevor Philp)

He worked through these setbacks with determination, courage and the right attitude. He worked very hard. His sense of humor kept is spirits up.

Fortunately, throughout his ski racing, Morgan kept in touch with his academic side. He attended the University of Vermont, representing the Catamounts when healthy and cheering on his teammates when he couldn’t compete. He blended his program with the Canadian Alpine Ski Team and NCAA skiing, to graduate in 2018.

I first heard of Morgan as a K2 (under 15 age group in the old FIS system). The Alpine Canada Chair, Reid Drury, alerted us to a young Canadian who had won the qualifier for Whistler Cup in the Eastern Region of US Skiing. The Megarry family skied out of Ellicottville, NY.

In races below the FIS level, nationality is not a consideration – until you race in a FIS sanctioned Children’s race. Morgan could not represent the US because he was a Canadian. So the question was put, could we include this youngster in the Canadian Team?

The Canadian Team has already been selected from the K2 Nationals, so our Director of Domestic Development, Mark Sharp, went to the organizers of the Whistler Cup to see if they would be flexible and allow an extra quota spot – to run after the National Teams. They were more than pleased to assist. So Morgan was added on the basis he had earned inclusion through performance.

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Courtesy Morgan’s Instagram

Morgan subsequently joined the Craigleith Ski Club and competed for the Ontario Ski Team. His results earned him a spot on the Canadian Development Team. He went on to podium in many Nor-Am races and for the Catamounts in NCAA competition.

Morgan described his tenacious nature in Escarpment Magazine “I pride myself on being the under dog.My arrival at this level is a result of determination and hard work. Years of tireless competition and the relentless pursuit of excellence have brought me to where I am today. I am proud of my journey, and am confident that I have the necessary qualities to continue on this path towards success on the sports greatest stage.”

He had 7 World Cup starts and was narrowly nosed out of a Canadian giant slalom title by teammate Trevor Philp in 2018.

On June 16th of this year, Morgan announced to his teammates it was time to move on. The injuries had taken their toll. His Instagram post was still upbeat: “It’s been a long, bumpy road, but man, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Thanks to everyone who was part of this kids’ dream. Now, on to the next one!”

Thanks Morgan. You earned our respect, our admiration for your tenacious attitude and work ethic and the support of your teammates.

We can’t wait to see what you’re going to achieve in your next chapter!

 

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It sure is a great place to train ….

The horn with the iconic tilt remains hidden until you arrive in Täsch, the jumping off point to take the train to Zermatt. On arrival, the mountain dominates everywhere, everything. It’s the basis of commerce, dating back to the early days of alpinism which attracted the British elites who challenged the ‘un-climbable” Matterhorn.

ZermattThe Matterhorn Valley is experiencing a tourism boom. Over 2.2 million visitors rode the Glacier Express to view the majesty of the Swiss alps and it’s star. Nearly ninety percent ride the rails to town, walk the Bahnhofstrasse, ride the Gornergrat Railway to take in the panorama of the fourteen 4,000 metre peaks featuring the Matterhorn, Breithorn, Liskamm, Monte Rosa and the numerous glaciers which spill into the valleys.

A meaningful, but much smaller crew are able to go about our business of training, as we reside at the south end of the village where only the more ambitious tourist visit. We go about our business, rising at 5:30, on the series of gondola and trams (2) which ferry us to 3,883 metres. We walk down a 200 metre tunnel bored through the Klein Matterhorn to emerge on the Theodul Glacier which surrounds much of the base of the Matterhorn.

From 7:00 to 12:00 the Plateau Rosa is alive with athletes. In mid-summer and autumn, Zermatt has become the primary speed training venue for World Cup Teams, thanks to the highest altitude and superior snow conditions. The first two weeks of July are quiet, with only the Croatian, Canadian and select Swiss athletes on-site, accompanied by an enormous crowd of young, aspiring ski racers from Switzerland, France, Italy, USA and Canada.

LRG_DSC06232Most of the younger athletes come up from Cervinia on the Italian side, where for 65 Euros you get accommodations and full pension (all meals). But while the Swiss side is more expensive, we get an extra hour head start on the snow. Wonder why? The entire glacier lies within Switzerland, so they protect their competitive advantage. Prices are quite reasonable if one stays away from the classic tourist haunts in Zermatt. And, as mentioned above, it is actually very quiet.

Bikes have taken over the town – the eBike rules, as this is by far the easiest way to get around in a car-less village – which is 5 km. long. Hiking is spectacular in every direction. Mountain hotels, bistros and refuges are found up every trail and valley.

But Zermatt remains at the core a centre of alpinism and alpine skiing. Winter is the high season and the past two have been spectacular.

IMG_8469Returning to the Mattertal, to see the silent sentinel looming over the village is always a welcome sight for the first ski training session of the season. It becomes automatic to check the mountain, watch it’s moods and changing colours. Trying to divine what tomorrow might bring for weather.

#WeAreWinter

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We’re underway!

LRG_DSC00022Season 2020 is underway! Between Mammoth Mountain, the Horstman Glacier above Whistler, iconic Stelvio and Matterhorn glaciers, Canada’s Alpine Ski Team are back on the snow, in the gates and beginning their program for the 2019-20 ski season.

Today in Zermatt, as we emerged from the Klein Matterhorn tunnel at 3,900 metres, it was clear, cold, with 2-3 cm, of fresh snow on top of a firm base. Not a cloud in the sky as Trevor Philp and Erik Read, both athletes from the Banff Alpine Racers, opened their first session on the famous Plateau Rosa.

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They joined the Croatian Ski Team and Team American which feature a group of University of Denver Pioneers:,  Croatian Ski Team (Andrea Komsic), Team America (Alex Leever) with other athletes from Westminster College, University of Utah, Dartmouth College and Montana State represented as well.

Day one focused on technical drills and technique. It will be into the gates to work on equipment and technical drills in the coming days.

The Matterhorn Glacier is quiet this week, with only the Croatian, Canadian and Team America with multiple World Cup athletes – and hundreds of aspiring young ski racers from Italy, the USA and Switzerland. It’s refreshing to have small lift lines and space.

Update on other Canadian Alpine Ski Team athletes: the women’s World Cup squad is in Italy at Stelvio, having arrived three days ago. The Men’s World Cup/Europa Cup Team were divided between a session for west coast athletes under the watchful eye of Nick Cooper who volunteers his time to work with his former charges; while Calgary based athletes traveled to Mammoth Mountain for a session with Team Coach Chris Powers. The men’s World Cup tech team are in Zermatt for the next two weeks and Simon Fournier heads to New Zealand next month.

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This Zermatt trip has been made possible through the generous support of many groups and individuals who have supported our athletes. Our thanks to the following who have made this trip possible:

Croatian Ski Team and Croatian Ski Federation
Team America
Mike Irwin and Mission Wealth Advisors
Mike Wiegele Heli-skiing
Matteo Bortolotti
Peter Crompton Foundation
Mike Robbins
Jake Robbins
Len Sudermann
Roxane and Don Bell

And our appreciation to several anonymous donors have stepped up to help out, as well as the personal sponsors of each athlete, their families and their equipment suppliers.

“Thank you” –  for helping us get our athletes on the snow and doing what they love: “Compete for Canada, and aim for the podium”.

#wearewinter

 

 

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The Caribou: Alberta’s Premiere U12 Alpine Ski Race

For most of us, ‘The Caribou’ would be taken as the Caribou Lodge in Banff. For over 40 years it has a whole different meaning to young ski racers in the Canadian Rockies.

This past weekend, over 200 enthusiastic U12 ski racers from all over the province converged on the slopes of Banff Mount Norquay for ‘The Caribou’.

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It’s the highlight of their young sporting lives, the highest level of competition this winter for these 9 to 11 year old athletes.

Since 1978, every young ski racer in the province has faced down the slope of Rob’s Run, screwing up their courage to launch onto the giant slalom race course on day one. On day two, it’s a fun Team dual slalom.

Now this isn’t a full-blown championship. This is, after all, the entry level of competition for young skiers who are exploring their interest in the competitive side of skiing. For many, it’s their first year racing in gates. Rules now permit downhill suits, so most are aiming to look like their heroes on the World Cup Tour.

What it is, though, is pure fun. Young athletes are here to race because they love to ski. Many of them won’t progress on to the next level of ski racing (but we sure hope they do). This is their Olympics. They’re not doing it for money or a picture in the paper. It’s pure enthusiasm. And it is so refreshing to watch. It’s a wonderful reminder of why we all enjoy participating in sports. The kids bring out the memories of the playful child hidden deep within each and every one of us.

On Saturday, they get to race with their friends, each get a photo taken by well-known Banff photographer Malcolm Carmichael, who has become an icon with this event having provided photos for nearly three decades (that’s dedication!).

It is no easy task to find sponsors to support amateur sport and even harder for youth events. But when the name of a sponsor, through their dedication and perseverance, becomes part of the terminology of the sport, it has to be considered a brilliant move.

LRG_DSC04962The race was started in 1978 and was known as ‘The Snowflake Cup’. ‘Thanks to the generosity of Ross Pringle, owner of the Thunderbird Souvenir Shop in Banff, it gained a sponsor and became the ‘The Thunderbird’. In the 1990’s, Wim Pauw and Neil Tanner, owners of the Caribou Lodge in Banff, stepped up and took over sponsorship and since it has been named ‘The Caribou’.

With 41 years of history, ask the thousands of youngsters that have passed through the start gate what ‘The Caribou’ means and they’ll tell you it’s a really cool ski race. A pretty sharp move by these Banff entrepreneurs who demonstrated their commitment to youth and to ski racing by directing their marketing dollars to a children’s race rather than a high profile event.

A 35 second giant slalom run down Rascal at Banff Mount Norquay is a long way from the National Ski Team or the Olympics. But the list of graduates from “The Caribou” includes Olympic and World Championship medalist Jan Hudec, World Champion Johnny Kucera, World Cup winner Thomas Grandi and current Canadian Ski Team members Trevor Philp as well as Erik and Jeffrey Read.

You can bet Ross, Wim and Neil are very proud of these graduates and many more, as would be the many dedicated volunteers and parents who year after year invest many long hours organizing and running the race.

Who knows? A future Olympic champion may be at the start this weekend. But this won’t be a concern for any of these kids. They’re just excited to be racing in ‘The Caribou’.

LRG_DSC04900–  30  –

This is an updated version of a story which originally appeared in February/2001.

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Aiming For The Podium

NextGeneration_AlpineCanadaFundraiser_Mesa de trabajo 1

Thanks to the generous support of Joey Gibbons and his Team at Buffalo Bills in Whistler, the athletes and parents of Canada’s “next generation” of alpine ski racers aiming for the World Cup, are hosting a fundraiser the evening of December 27th – 8:00pm.

100% of funds raised will go to the athletes who are looking to follow in the tracks of our remarkable champions including Rob Boyd, Dave Murray, Britt & Mike Janyk and many others from Whistler and area who have proudly represented Canada at the highest level of alpine ski racing – the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup.

There are tough financial challenges with a significant shortfall to see the season through. This is a Team effort led by the athletes and parents to rally support and enable this group of talented athletes their chance to gain valuable experience. We are all grateful to the numerous individuals and corporations who have already stepped up to help us out.

But the job is not done, yet.

Please come and join the athletes and many other ski team alumni who are pitching in to help give the “next generation” the chance to follow in the footsteps of the tremendous legacy Canada enjoys in the speed events of downhill and superG.

December 27th – 8pm
Buffalo Bills, 4122 Village Green, Whistler Canada

For tickets: showpass.com/aimingforthepodium

For information: buffalobills.ca

To those outside of the Whistler area, if you would like to make a contribution to help the Team, please send a note via Facebook messenger and I can share how to make a donation.

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We are still winners.

It was a healthy debate, full of passion. We pushed and prodded the merits of hosting a major sporting event. And while the outcome may not have been what many would have liked, the topic of sport – specifically Olympic and Paralympic sport, took centre stage.

A decision was reached. And sport carries on.

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Photo credit: Malcolm Carmichael, Alpine Peak Photography

The sport community is so much more than just the Games. While the discussion raged on, Calgary was hosting the opening Short Track Speed Skating World Cup of the season at the Olympic Oval. Biathletes were battling it out at the Canmore Nordic Centre, in time trails to determine who will make up the World Cup and IBU Cup Teams.

And closest to my heart, alpine ski racers were putting final polish to more than six months of preparation. Our local mountains are alive with athletes, training to the west of us – Nakiska, Panorama, Norquay, Lake Louise – and hundreds more down in Colorado.

They had their hopes up. Who wouldn’t want to have a major event at home? But we move on.

This is a World Championship year. An event tougher than the Olympic Winter Games, as is every single World Cup event. So the effort must be invested, the senses sharpened and a relentless effort – every day, every week for the next fourteen – to aim to be the best.

It is very hard to convey the flavour of what our elite athletes invest to aim for the podium, to aim to represent us in the best possible way.

It’s a cycle that started in April, on the heels of the past season, to make use of the exceptional snow conditions in the Canadian Rockies. Training on rock-hard snow to hone technique, explore the nuances of equipment, build capacity. Yes, after a long winter of racing, ski racers still invest even more after the racing is done, in the pursuit of excellence.

Then, the off-snow season begins. Hours of sweat at Canadian Sport Institute Calgary under the watchful eyes of athletic trainers, coaches, physios, nutritionists, sport physiologists and more. To build stamina, capacity and skill.IMG_4783

Summer becomes winter either on the glaciers of Europe or natural snow of the Southern Hemisphere. Very early mornings, often accompanied by spectacular sunrises at the rarefied altitudes. Important work invested into core skills. And it continues into the autumn months on the many glacier resorts of Europe, to fine-tune as the season hurtles towards the opening.

Hundreds of volunteers have poured tremendous effort into preparing the World Cup. As Calgarians were basking in +15c temperatures, they’ve been working in the snow running “A” net, “B” net, communications wiring, start and finish setups, working the surface to be world-class. An enormous mobilization of skill and hard work to prepare the opening downhill of the winter season – to be ready for the 1st training run on Wednesday, November 21.

At Lake Louise, over a three week period, the world’s best alpine ski racers will take nearly 1,000 runs on the Olympic Downhill. First the men’s World Cup, then the ladies, followed by the Nor-Am Tour for both genders.

Lake Louise has hosted the 2nd largest number of World Cup events, world-wide – behind the famous Hahnenkamm at Kitzbühel. No venue is as productive and supportive as Lake Louise, staging 16 days of training and racing.

DSC01516And a story: one of the spectators will be a close friend, Peter Obernauer, a member of the Executive Committee for the Hahnenkamm Races at Kitzbühel.  Peter loves to visit Lake Louise. The beauty of the Canadian Rockies are a draw, as is the skiing and that everyone on the World Cup Tour is lodged in the Chateau Lake Louise. But he appreciates the effort invested by the race committee (having been the Chief of Race for the men’s downhill on the Hahnenkamm for many years). He appreciates the ambience of Canada’s World Cup and the ease with which all spectators and participants can move about the mountain to watch, cheer and celebrate.

“Your World Cup is very different than ours (at Kitzbühel) and I like it very much” said Peter to me last year. “You offer something we can’t. You have a special spirit and I hope you always will. Everyone works so hard. You overcome really big challenges as the first race and take such pride in doing so. I just love to be here and be part of this.”

The Lake Louise World Cup Race Committee epitomizes the spirit of sport. Selfless effort, tremendous pride and a relentless effort to provide a home environment for the Canadian Team — this is what we have built in Canada in our sport community. This is what motivates volunteers, officials, athletes and their families. This is why we are winners.

So let’s move on. Let’s focus on what we do very well – which is host great events. Let’s celebrate our athletes and the community that supports them in their quest to represent us. Let’s celebrate what we can bring to our local community, to our country and to international sport.

We hoped to welcome the world. Well, the world is now here. We didn’t need to wait eight years. Another 100 million+ viewers will be tuning in on TV over the coming weeks to watch a new season begin, possibly history being made and to take in the thrill of competitor against the mountain.

Come on out. Cheer on our best.

 

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