Our culture is community. Time for us… to shine.

When you combine smart and passionate people with a shared vision, an openness to change, a culture of innovation, and a spirit of collaboration, good things will happen.
– Dr. Jim Taylor

 

Ski racing is essentially a simple sport. There is a start, a finish and the best time between the two takes the laurels.

At the most fundamental level, ski racing is an individual sport. Competitor against the mountain, using their skill, bravado and tactics to negotiate the nuances and obstacles to find the elusive fastest line.

It has been a century since Sir Arnold Lunn of the Kandahar Ski Club codified the rules. From the earliest days, ski racing has been international. The best of your nation against the best from ours. Major international events, many now known as our “classic” events, have drawn the most talented from around the world to challenge their skill, their bravado and their tactics against legendary tracks.IMG_8128

An individual sport, set in a team environment. Team has two meanings.

There is the “team” of your fellow athletes. Very important, for building strong peer groups, for sharing information, for commiserating and celebrating. Life on the road by yourself is no fun.

And there is the Team that surrounds the athletes: coaches, service technicians, trainers, physios, medical – the support Team that guides, lifts, directs, shapes, mentors and support the athletes in their pursuit of excellence. This is the essential backbone of every Team.

Very few nations can muster a comprehensive program on their own. Even the power leaders look outside their ‘team’ for support. It may be no more than validation of the direction of training by inviting a partner to join a training session. Or a full collaboration between two smaller teams to replicate the human resources and reach of a larger power. It’s everything from eyes on the track, replacement of gates, the labour of course prep and setup – covering the infrastructure of our sport to ensure the track is safe and optimal; to enhancing the quality of the training group through more talent and shared experience.DSCN1362

Collaboration within alpine ski racing is everywhere. Nations have worked together. Teams work together. Coaches work together. It makes life easier. The workload is shared. Training is better. Athletes have a superior training environment. Competitiveness breeds excellence.

I’ve seen this in action at every level. Nations collaborating to optimize their resources. Groups within a country working closely together to provide better, more-cost effective support to lower level athletes who shoulder the responsibility of costs.

Working together is in our DNA. It’s what we do. This is our sport culture.

As our sport currently faces the greatest challenge we have ever encountered, I believe our culture and our character can see us through.

Next week the International Ski Federation launches our first-ever online meetings. We gather via the wonders of technology to map out plans for the coming winter.

There is a lot of work ahead of us. Finding solutions to ensure we have a ski racing season winter will require our community – the entire community – to work together. To get the  green light from the health authorities to proceed with a season, we need to devise ways to operate our sport. We need to be creative to develop ways for our organizers to prepare slopes and build a race arena. We need to find solutions to accommodation, food, travel and training.

We also face an unevenness to access. Some ski nations are blessed with glaciers and resorts that offer easier access to snow and training venues. Many of these also enjoy tremendous support from resort and ski industry. Both are international in scope, which has prompted the underpinning of ski racing for decades – promoting destinations through the power of TV, with exciting action on classic competition slopes against a backdrop of magnificent panoramas. Skiing has become truly international in scope with a ski industry that spans cold and warm countries alike.

This fundamental element of our sport: the ski community and our international foundation, are what we are. A ski race, is not a true ski race, if all the worlds best are not there. This was the unique philosophy of the Alpine Ski World Cup proposed by founders Serge Lang, Bob Beattie, Sepp Sulzberger and Honoré Bonnet in 1966 as they gathered in the Seidlalm on the side of the Streif at Kitzbühel. An annual series of ski competitions, bringing together ALL the best competitors in the world: the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup has been the foundation of our sport for 54 seasons.

Ski racing is a family. We are all part of the ski community. I’ve seen it in action many times. It works because we know collaboration makes the enormous task of delivering the training or competition environment that is safe, fair and an athletic test works best when we work together.

We want the competitive arena to be where we find out who the best is. We prefer to see great races, decided by talent and tactics. We know this is a fundamental value of our World Cup that inspires our spectators, lifts TV audiences – both key drivers of the financial model: marketing and TV rights.

So in the coming weeks and months, some nations will be challenged to get to the snow. Some athletes may face restrictions to travel or to isolate. For a valid World Cup and World Championship season, protocols need to be developed to give every qualified competitor that is willing to compete the opportunity to do so, including proper pre-season training and preparation.

These are all tough challenges and we have no clear answers as yet. It is in times of crisis where character guides our actions and culture provides the foundation to guide our vision of what we want ski racing to be. And there is no doubt a helping hand will be needed.

I resolutely believe our ski family can come together, to see past our national objectives and look to the greater value, the greater good of finding ways to bring together our great ski community, to race. That we can look deep within ourselves to show our generosity, to offer help, to collaborate like we always do, to be innovative to seek answers, to work as a family.

Not just because we can, because we want to.

When our backs are against the wall, our character comes out. We respect our competition. We want all our best to be at the start. Our community expects us to be athlete focused and our culture of teamwork, collaboration and international excellence to prevail. It has served us well for 100 years. We have built a sport that continues to thrive, which brings chills and thrills to enormous world-wide audiences. That inspires hundreds of thousands of young ski racers in more than 100 nations.

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With the right tone, education and respect…

I’ve been thinking quite a bit of my father of late.

My Dad was a physician, but spent his entire professional life teaching. It was his passion. So while he did practice within the University Health clinics, his primary focus was teaching.

Our family life and the many opportunities we experienced were shaped by his work. From his leadership role as Head of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Queens University — how was that for a mouthful to explain to your friends what your Dad did for a living — to the Team that established the University of Calgary Med School to investigating traffic accidents, setting up First Nation Health Units or serving as camp doctor at Camp Horizon; he loved working with people and helping lift our community.

Education, prevention and guidance were themes that rang through out house regularly. My Dad believed in the basic willingness of people to “do the right thing”, if they were informed and given good advice.

Case in point: In the mid-1970’s the debate ranged about seat-belt legislation. As a provincial responsibility, it was up to provincial governments to make the call. Alberta was one of the last holdouts for universal legislation. My Dad, at the time, was leading the Accident Research Unit in Calgary and the stats were quite clear that seatbelts saved lives. But rather than tilt politically against the wind of a reluctant government, he focused his efforts to child restraint legislation, something new at the time. No jurisdiction in Canada had effective laws in place. His goal, was to urge the government to establish the best child restraint legislation in North America, on the basis that 1) children rely on adults to make the choice 2) the statistics clearly supported that properly installed child restraint in vehicles saved lives 3) that parents would embrace legislation to do the right thing and protect their children.

He succeeded.

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Inspecting the proposed 1988 Olympic alpine ski venue with FIS President Marc Hodler

My Dad liked to take on tall challenges. When Calgary was named host city for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in 1981, like many in our city, he was actively involved in the sport development side of the Games. But with the advent of a tobacco sponsorship in skiing ignited his community health background and put him on the pathway to encouraging the Calgary Organizing Committee to establish a “Smoke-free Olympics” policy. At the time, there was limited legislation and no “smoke-free” spaces. He saw the Olympics as a high visibility opportunity to promote smoking cessation. But my Dad was pragmatic. He understood that smoking is an addiction which at the time snared some 30%+ of the population. If the concept of a “Smoke-free Olympics” was to succeed, it needed 100% compliance. So his tactic was to call for ‘smoke-free’ spaces for athletes competing at the Games. Something people could understand and appreciate – keep the competitive space for the athlete clear of smoke – to get community buy-in. OCO’ 88, the Games Organizing Committee embraced the proposal, followed shortly by the International Olympic Committee, who urged the Seoul 1988 Summer Games Organizers to also implement a “smoke-free” policy.

The “Smoke-Free Olympics” are now standard policy for all Olympic Games, implemented by every Games organizer since 1988.

Today, faced with enormous challenges to deal with a calamity of global proportion, now, more than ever, we need to be sensible, pragmatic and respectful to gain and maintain full compliance of the public. We need honesty. We need clear information and we need to hear a message of hope for better times.

That’s why I keep thinking about my Dad.

His life was education. Taking on enormous public health policy issues meant patience and education to build a dialogue:  to get people talking about the right stuff.

He was respectful.  Built around the firm belief that if people have all the facts and understand, they want to do the right thing.

He used the process of dialogue and education to build a pathway, so when policy was enacted by government it was not into a vacuum, but into a pro-active environment that could drive positive outcomes.

Now, more than ever we need our discourse to adopt forward thinking guiding principles that my Dad used so effectively. As we move towards ‘re-opening’ the economy and restoring ‘normalcy’. can we urge the following:

1. Respect: if we, the public at large, are properly informed we will do the right thing. “Physical Distancing” is a perfect example – a high percentage of of us understood and are doing their part to ‘flatten the curve’. Speak to us, inform us … don’t lecture us.

2. Educate: there will be new normal and we will all need to understand it. We should be using this time – not to speculate or engage in hubris – but to educate how we can understand how best to do our part so we can do the things we love to do. How this will work in our places of employment, in our recreational spaces, on the street, in retail. Combined with respect, I firmly believe people will understand and do the right thing.

3. Be hopeful: leaders set the tone and right now, tone is everything to a public that has made a commitment to “do the right thing”. Dr. Bonnie Henry, Chief Medical Officer for British Columbia, has emerged as one of the stars of our current challenge. Her tone is warm. She engages and educates. She holds out a beacon of hope. She is honest, which at times comes with tough news, but when delivered reasonably, honestly and with hope – is well received.

Scaring people is counter-productive, which is instills a culture of fear. To those who use these tactics, please stop.  Hectoring people, is already very old. The initial urgent moves to bar, limit, close, restrict and shut down were essential emergency measures. Almost universally, the public at large did the right thing. But the time of urgency has given us time to reflect …. and now we need to pivot, quickly.

If we want continued high levels of compliance – educate, offer solutions, shine a light on where we can get to if we do the right things now. Be positive.

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An example of “how to” use hiking trails in parks. Educate and people will do the right thing.

We also have a once-in-100 year opportunity to create sustainable projects, think long-term, shape our cities and towns in ways that only a few weeks ago seemed unimaginable. Re-opening the economy presents enormous challenges.  The last great calamity of this scope – the Great Depression – Canada’s recovery plan was to dig holes and then fill them up. We can and must do so much better. Let’s stop the partisan harangue and collectively ‘re-imagine’ our nation.

On a practical day-to-day level, we must creatively discuss what we can do. Move beyond cannot and towards possibilities. There is work and there is play. We need to quickly find ways to restore the activities that feed our spirit – arts, culture, sport, recreation – and embrace how we can get back to a new normal through educating how to, demonstrating what is possible.  Our mental and physical well-being are essential – we need to very quickly spark a constructive dialogue how we can …. and move away from arbitrary closures or lock-downs which were essential several weeks ago.

It is heartening to see several leading Health Care officials emphasize the need for access to activity and recreation in recent days. We now need our political leadership to include sport, recreation and activity in the “opening up” of our society.

We need to think outside the box. We need to be visionary. We need to educate. We need to provide good guidance of “how to” and trust people.

And we need to be positive. Like my Dad.

Dr. John H. Read (1924-2002) – an advocate for public health and children throughout his life. Born in Joliette, QC, he served in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II between 1943-45. After the war, he completed his medical degree in 1950 from McGill. He took a diploma in public health at the University of Toronto and finished his formal studies with a specialty in paediatrics from the University of Michigan. Through 35 years of education he was a teacher and leader through postings with the University of  British Columbia (1957-1962), Queen’s (1962-1968), and University of Calgary (1968-1989) as well as a visiting professor to the University of Lausanne and a variety of projects with the World Health Organization.

He was always happiest on the lakes and rivers of Canada in the stern of his red canoe.

Related to this story:

Opinion: It’s time to carefully reopen parks and recreation areas: https://calgaryherald.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-its-time-to-revisit-the-closing-of-all-parks-and-recreation-areas/wcm/f8c985e3-2bd2-4dae-9619-fa4bdfdd1651/

Mount Baldy, California Reopens Wednesday, April 22: https://winter.mtbaldyresort.com/covid-19-guidlines/

Fonna Opens May 1st!: https://www.visitfonna.no/news/fonna-opens-may-1st

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Narvik 2020 – Heya Svenska! But sadly, we bid Narvik goodbye

Day five of Narvik 2020 dawned bright and cold, perfect racing conditions for the junior women. In a day that see-sawed the emotions, the Swedish women provided a tour of force to take gold and place three other athletes in the top 13.

Twenty-year old Sarah Rask who leads the Europa Cup giant slalom standings, powered down both runs. Naja Dvornik of Slovenia delivered the fastest seond run to move up to the silver medal position. Kaja Norbe of Norway repeated her bronze medal performance of a year ago in Val di Fassa, bringing her total number of World Junior medals for the Norwegian to three.

F41E4B06-8CEE-432C-A5E2-BD01C15301AF_1_201_aJustine Clement (Stoneham) led the Canadian squad in 17th place, followed by Cassidy Gray (Team Panorama) in 21st, Brianna MacDonald (Osler Bluff) in 34th, Sarah Bennett (Stoneham) in 39th and Ella Renzoni (Whistler) in 44th. Claire Timmermann (Banff Alpine) did not finish the 1st run.

With the men’s draw complete and the race track ready, came the news from the Chief Municipal Doctor in Narvik, Sverre Håkon Evju, who made the decision to cancel the remainder of the Alpine Junior World Championships.

From the media release posted to the Narvik 2020 web site:

“We have come to a situation where the number of corona cases has nearly doubled in the space of 24 hours and the virus has attained status as an international pandemic. Even though we have kept to all guidelines, and we are in an area where there is not a single confirmed case of a person infected by the virus, we have chosen to cancel,” informs Sverre Håkon Evju who is also the Doctor of the Championships.

There are over 300 athletes in the Championships from a total of 40 countries.

“We wish to point out that we are not doing this because we have cases of corona infection. We are doing this precisely because we have no cases of corona infection.”, he adds

Erik Plener, leader of the Organization of the Alpine Junior World Championships supports the decision. “It is a wise decision and it is better to be safer than sorry. It is better to cancel while the athletes still have the possibility of traveling home – rather than having 500 people in quarantine for 14 days”, he adds.

Teams are now making plans to depart from Narvik. The Organizing Committee expressed their thanks to the many coaches who had helped enormously with watering and slope preparation and the Team Captains, in turn, shared their thanks for the tremendous effort invested by the volunteers and staff. Community spirit – spirit of the north – was clearly evident and the pride of this beautiful northern community was shared with all.

Tussen takk Narvik!

Sooner than expected, the focus now shifts to the 2021 FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships which are scheduled for Bansko, Bulgaria next March.

 

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Narvik 2020 – Alpine Combined

Narvikfjellet presented us with the full range of winter conditions yesterday and today. The forecast had called for high winds and warmer temperatures – fortunately, the wind was slow to build which allowed the staging of the women’s super G leg, but by mid-morning it was apparent the men’s super G was not going to happen.

The combination of a challenging hill, tailwind and softening snow made for a tough opening leg of the alpine combined. The slalom leg was run on the lower slopes of the mountain in spring-like conditions.

1079553F-90C1-469A-87B0-E9A12E87745C_1_201_aMagdalena Egger, the 19-year old emerging star of this Championship, continued to deliver a perfect record taking the super G ahead of her 20-year old Austrian teammate, Lisa Grill. This duo are now “three for three” with gold-silver in the downhill, super G and alpine combined.

Joining them on the podium was American Keely Cashman of Squaw Valley,, who is the current leader of the Nor-Am Cup.

Egger, Grill and Cashman went a commanding 1-2-3 in the super G and followed the morning result with strong afternoon performances in the slalom leg. Hanna Aronsson Elfman of Sweden posted the fastest time in the slalom.

Sarah Bennett (Stoneham) led Canadians in 18th, followed by Katrina van Soest (Banff Alpine) in 25th. Ella Renzoni (Whistler), Claire Timmermann (Banff Alpine) and Cassidy Grey (Team Panorama) missed gates in the super G.

62DD42B9-5DC5-487C-AB05-B92F43ED52BE_1_201_aWith the rising wind delaying the super G, the men ran the slalom leg yesterday afternoon with Jamie Casselman (Team Panorama) taking the lead with the fastest run of the day in a time of 38.87. Alte Lie McGrath of Norway was a close behind with 39.01 and Croatian Samuel Kolega rounded out the top three with a time of 39.29.

Raphael Lessard (Bromont) finished 27th, Aidan Marler (Mont Ste. Marie) 47th and Liam Wallace (Sunshine) had a detour and climb to end up 63rd.

Unfortunately, the weather did not rebound quickly enough and soft piste conditions forced the cancellation of today’s scheduled super G leg. So the men’s alpine combined is cancelled and will not be held.

At the half-way point in the 2020 FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championship, the Marc Hodler Trophy standings put Austria in a commanding lead with 85 points, ahead of Italy with 35 and Switzerland 3rd with 32. The Marc Hodler Trophy is named after the long-serving former President of the FIS, and is considered the “Nations Cup” of the World Junior Championship. Points are scored for placing in the top ten.

Marc Hodler Trophy standings: https://www.fis-ski.com/DB/general/statistics.html?statistictype=standings&standingstype=marc-hodler&categorycode=WJC&seasoncode=2020&standingssectorcode=AL

Alpine Combined Results: https://www.fis-ski.com/DB/general/results.html?sectorcode=AL&competitorid=202929&raceid=99992

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Narvik 2020 – Speed Races Complete

376C11E5-9576-45CE-9E6C-28ED5C6C8D53Two spectacular days of ski racing opened the 2020 FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships in Narvik, Norway.

Saturday’s events featured the women and men’s downhill. Variable weather resulted in using a lower start, as early morning cloud and wind threatened to disrupt the first day of racing. But an exceptional effort by the large contingent of volunteers working the track and a shift in the cloud and wind, resulted in two great events.

Narvik2020-VM-Junior-232x300Narvik offers a highly varied speed track, starting from sweeping open turns, into a highly technical and steep middle section and a flatter rolling sprint to the finish. The mountains of the Lofoten Peninsula across the Ofotfjord and the city of Narvik provide a spectacular backdrop.

Day one was a battle between the traditional alpine powers.

In the women, 19-year old Magdalena Egger of Austria took gold, with 20-year old 8687A117-3E6A-4FE6-9EE7-B44AFDEF999C_1_201_ateammate Lisa Grill capturing silver. Bronze went to Italian Monica Zanoner. Ella Renzoni (Whistler Mt.) led a trio of Canadians finishing 30th, followed by Claire Timmermann (Banff Alpine) in 31st and Katrina van Soest (Banff Alpine) in 32rd.

Men’s action saw the Swiss maintain their string of recent downhill junior champions, with Alexis Monney following in the footsteps of Lars Roesti and Marco Odermatt taking the gold, ahead of Italian Simon Talacci with silver and Stefan Rieser of Austria winning bronze in a closely contested race. Raphael Lessard (Bromont) led Canadians in 22nd, followed by Aidan Marler (Mont Ste Marie) in 32rd and Jamie Casselman (Team Panorama) in 35th.

Sunday dawned with bright blue sky and unlimited visibility, revealing the giant white peaks of Nordland that surround the Narvik-Fjellet ski resort.

It was Austria’s day, taking gold-silver in both races. Egger and Grill repeated as winner and runner-up, with Karen Smadja-Clement of France taking bronze, while Stefan Rieser won gold followed by teammate Armin Dornauer, with Yannick Chabloz of Switzerland rounding out the podium.

2EACED27-79BF-49F3-B05E-F99CC9150960_1_201_aCanadians were led by Liam Wallace (Sunshine) who raced from position #68 to finish 11th. The Chief of Race, in his comments about the Super G, referenced this remarkable run with the comment “I’m proud of the way our course workers prepared the track today — we had 145 competitors race today and the 121st racer down the slope finished 11th. That’s an example of good track preparation.”

Other Canadian results today were Raphael Lessard (Stoneham) in 19th.  Cassidy Gray (Team Panorama) was top Canadian woman in 20th. All other Canadians did not finish – all are OK, just missed gates in a tough set and one equipment issue.

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Tomorrow’s program for the alpine combined is very open, as the weather forecast is hard to predict. If weather permits, the super G leg of the AC will proceed for both women and men, plus the slalom leg for women. If the winds pick up making it impossible to run speed, we’re set to run both slaloms.

Stay tuned!

Results: https://www.fis-ski.com/DB/general/event-details.html?sectorcode=AL&eventid=45062&seasoncode=2020

 

 

 

 

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Narvik 2020 – Norway welcomes the world

Narvik2020-VM-Junior-232x300In one week, 500 of the best young ski racers in the world from 50 nations will gather for the 2020 FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships. This year, for the first time ever, the Championship will be held north of the Arctic Circle in Narvik, Norway.

The Norwegian Ski Federation, Narvik Ski Club and Narvik Fjellet Ski Resort have partnered to bring this major ski event to the north. The organizing committee prepared a video from the 2017 Norwegian National Championships, to provide an inspirational overview of the area, the enthusiasm for ski racing and a glimpse of the action what will take place March 5 to 14.

For an introduction to Narvik 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9Th1eAAj3g

The official web site for Narvik 2020: https://narvik2020.no/

Downhill races will open the action at the Narvik Fjellet Ski Area, with the first medals awarded on Saturday, March 7th. Follow the action through social media with the following Instagram accounts:

@narvik2020
#roadtonarvik2020
#narvik2020
@alpineracingpano (Instagram site for the 2022 World Juniors, Panorama)

 

COMPLETE-PROGRAMME-JWSC-2020_001Narvik-alpine-super-g-II-1600x430Images from Narvik 2020

 

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The Streif ….

FA992594-7C80-4C96-B3CF-F2D518B5CBB3The 80th running of the International Hahnenkamm-rennen is in the books. The names of Jansrud, Mayer and Yule are now part of the legendary event. The Streif and Ganslern are now quiet. Waiting ….

In our world of ski racing, the Streif has become synonymous with the ultimate challenge. The extreme test of downhill, on a classic track steeped in tradition that snakes along the north face of the Hahnenkamm. Since 1931, this is downhill racing at its’ best.

My bond with the Streif began through a gift. And it was quite a gift.

I was fourteen. Pretty downcast, with a cast on my left leg thanks to a broken ankle suffered in a training crash. It was mid-season and I was out for the winter. My coach, Mike Wiegele, wisely kept me busy, putting me to work in his ski shop at the base of the Lake Louise ski resort, fitting rentals. It kept me occupied, rather than moping about forced time off the snow.

Mike knew he needed to keep me busy, to keep me positively engaged. His solution was to give me a book written by American outdoor author, Curtis Casewit, “Ski Racing: Advice From The Experts”.

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I devoured every page.

Casewit had crafted a chronicle of ski racing through the words of the icons of the day: Jean-Claude Killy, Toni Sailer, Nancy Greene, Egon Zimmerman, Marielle Gotschl and Buddy Werner. Insight was shared about technique, equipment, fitness, the origins of ski racing and our rich history.

But what resonated were the descriptions of the “classics”. The rotation of the Arlberg-Kandahar, founded by the father of ski racing, Sir Arnold Lunn, rotated between Garmisch, Chamonix and St. Anton. The longest of the classics: Lauberhorn-rennen of Wengen. And the edgy Hahnenkamm of Kitzbühel. The insight of ski racing’s best made these races come alive.

The Streif stood out above them all.

Through these vivid descriptions, the Streif came alive. The Mausefalle (“mouse-trap”), Steilhang (“steep wall”), Alte-Schneise (“Old Cut”), Seidlalm (named after the nearby mountain hut, home to Hansi Hinterseer and location where the concept of the World Cup was first discussed), Hausberg-kante (Hausberg-jump), Traverse and Zeilschuss. The great racers artfully described how to negotiate these seemingly impossible passages. It was enthralling to read how each tackled the track. Their tricks, their skill, their passion for speed.

Casewit also included a record – the history of each classic. A record of our sport. The women and men who captured the imagination of nations as they conquered the heights of ski racing. Included were iconic Canadians, our “Golden Girls”: Lucile Wheeler (double-gold, 1958 World Championships), Anne Heggveit (gold, 1960 Olympics) and Nancy Greene (silver-gold, 1968 Olympics).

But something was missing. There were no Canadian men in the record.

Five years later, the words of the book became a reality. I stood in the start gate atop the Hahnenkamm. The education of a band of young Canadians had begun, as we studied the nuances of the track. Where to take risks and where to ski within the band of confidence. Through five seasons, we chipped away, earning top ten results. But for a team that had been branded “the Crazy Canucks”, the Streif remained an unsolved puzzle.

1978KitzbuhelWe always looked forward to Hahnenkamm week. Falling mid-season, we knew the furs would be out, the Formula One drivers in town and the crowds would be boisterous and enormous. The Streif is an honest track. It did not take special skis or a specialized skill. Only a complete downhiller could win. An athlete with the combination of bravado, skill and experience.

We needed to find the solution to the puzzle. So, on a bad-weather day on the nearby Hintertux glacier in October, 1979, Steve and I decided to try a different approach. We cut out to Kitzbuhel and hiked the track from Zeil to Start, drinking in the subtle changes in the slope, the bigger picture of the mountain.

Three months later, we were back. The 1980 edition was the “jubiläumsrennen” as the Kitzbühel Ski Club celebrated the 40th edition of the race. From the first moment down the track, I felt the difference. The Streif came alive in a different, new way. There was the track. But there was also everything else.

The Streif was our riddle to solve. Brushing away all stray thoughts in the Start-hutte, to focus. Facing down the start-schuss with a clear mind. Two firm pushes out of the start, quickly into the tuck and then swinging into the Mausefalle to position for a clean flight. Land – run straight through the compression and steer to the left to position for the Karussell, driving through the round-house turn and setting up to drop into the Steilhang, driving towards the ‘straw-wall’ – to see it and go … the leap of confidence to successfully skip across the convex exit turn and squeeze every drop of speed before the flats of the Bruckenshuss and Gschoss. Then maintain a high level of focus, with the track now a pussy-cat, before plummeting into the Alte-Schneise, to keep loose and let the skis float. Focus is the key through the Lärchenhang, to hold a clean edge to again squeeze speed into the flat before the Oberhausberg swing turns which set up the jump, pause, direction change, pause and drive to through the final turn before fee-falling across the traverse and steering into the Zeilschuss. With the finish in sight, the final compression sets a final trap for the unwary, and a final push.80.-int.-hahnenkammrennen-hahnenkammrennen

The riddle to solve was to understand the meaning of respect. The athletes, for the track. The organizers for the spectators and the show. The spectators for those challenging the Streif. The ski family for the tradition of the Hahnenkamm.

Contrary to all the hype, standing in the start is not scary. You are not afraid. Those who are afraid of a tough downhill have left the sport years before they come to the World Cup. Yes, there is the nervousness of competition, of pushing to the max on a tough track. It’s is, after all, the toughest downhill in the world. But it is the most fun anywhere. In the finish, you train yourself to reflect immediately on the run, then you just want to go back up and do it again.

There is a deep history, now through 80 editions. Every year, it is ‘one hell of a ride’. Yes, there has been tragedy, but this is ski racing where athletes push the limit to challenge themselves. This never overshadows the triumph of spirit, of energy to push to the limit of skill and courage – never beyond.

For me, it has been a fifty-year journey. From picturing the Streif from the words of my heroes, to finding myself in the start staring down the track. To solving the riddle of the track – – and to the full appreciation of this incredible tradition in alpine ski racing: our great champions, our historic tracks, the volunteers and organizers who pour their energy into the preparation of the slopes to the spectators on-site and watching on TV and the pure joy our sport brings to millions young and old around the world.

This is the Streif.

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Och laddie … you always reminded us to make it fun. A tribute to our friend, Fitzi.

Imagine learning to ski on a plastic slope.

For thousands of youngsters in Edinburgh, Scotland the Hillend ‘dryslope’ ski centre was the introduction to our sport. A 400 metre long piste covered with plastic matting serviced by a chairlift.

Now imagine graduating from a ‘dryslope’ to become one of Great Britain’s best ski racers, an Olympian and taking on the best in World Cup competition.racing_hillend

That was our “Fitzi”.

Early Tuesday morning, I heard the sad news that our friend, Stuart “Fitzi” Fitzsimmons, our most unlikely of ski racers had sadly passed away due to complications with pneumonia.

Fitzi was THE free spirit of the World Cup Tour. Growing up in a city that is rarely frequented with snow, but had this unusual ski slope with a chairlift that made skiing accessible. He showed great talent and though the generosity of local benefactors was supported to get to programs and races on the real stuff at the Cairngorm Ski Centre, some 200 km. north near Aviemore.

I first met Fitzi at the 1973 British Ski Championships, where he used his deft touch on the skis emerge as one of Britain’s top talents in giant slalom. Learning to ski on a dryslope, he developed a unique skill to squeeze speed out of every turn. Once reaching the international level, his swift rise earned him a spot within the British Ski Team, joining Konrad Bartelski, Peter Fuchs, Willy Bailey and Alan Stuart. It was 1973.

Struan HouseThat summer, under the watchful eye of Team GB’s coach, Dieter Bartsch, this young, brash group of teenagers welcomed a wayward young Canadian to join them for for three months of intense dryland conditioning at Struan House (Peter’s home) in Carrbridge, Scotland and skiing on the Dachstein Glacier above Schladming, Austria.

We parted ways the end of that summer, but within a year we were reunited in World Cup and EuropaCup races, as a determined crew working our way from the back of the pack. The adventure continued to the 1976 Olympic Winter Games of Innsbruck and the 1978 World Ski Championships of Garmisch.

Fitzi_racingFitzi loved ski racing. He brought a special brand of zaniness to his own career. His unconventional origins – from a dryslope (plastic slope) – seem totally normal today with many top competitors emerging into the elite ranks from origins outside the traditional ski resorts. Leading this trend is Team GB’s David Ryding, who also started on a plastic ski slope, now one of the top slalom competitors in the world. Indoor ski halls dot the non-alpine landscape beyond the 40 dryslope and indoor halls in the UK – from Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, Australia, Japan and Dubai.

Fitzi was the first to begin from a dryslope, to achieve an international level of high performance on ‘real’ snow. A pioneer.

It was Fitzi Films where his ski skills and zaniness blended to make an indelible mark on the World Cup and endear him to several generations of ski racers whom he followed and featured. He became a ‘videographer‘ before anyone really knew what they were.

Fitzi was a pioneer in this field too” recalled his teammate Konrad Bartelski in a Facebook post. “Way before the lightweight Go Pro style cameras were invented, Fitzi used to ski down the icy, fast and rough downhill courses with a huge, heavy camera in his hand and an even bigger Digi Beta recorder on his back. Always superbly close to the action, the dramatic and innovative images that Fitzi captured, helped put Ski Sunday on the map.”Fitzi_filming

Ski Sunday, was the iconic BBC TV program which followed the World Cup through weekly broadcasts from the classic European ski resorts. Fitzi helped bring the action and the personalities of ski racing into homes across the UK.

Remember, this was well before miniaturized cameras. To shoot video meant toting heavy cameras and recording machines, so most camera work was shot while stationary. Not Fitzi, who threw the gear onto his back and with the camera on his shoulder would fire off down a downhill track at full speed.

Want a taste of his talent, go to Youtube through this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yx9_KUAZOqk

No one was more excited than Fitzi, when Konrad Bartelski scored his podium breakthrough in Val Gardena, Italy, with a 2nd place finish in the World Cup downhill in December 1982. This was the result British skiing and this young band of pioneers had worked so long and hard for — they believed. Over a decade from when this unlikely crews were pulled together, only Konrad was left to carry the Union Jack. And Fitzi, working in World Cup ski media, to cheer him on.

When his years with Ski Sunday came to an end, Fitzi Film became Fitzi Art and the passion for ski racing came pouring out in a colourful technique that was uniquely Fitzi. Energy glowed from every piece. Most had a message, conveying the excitement of a great result, paying tribute to an historic race, sharing a theme with one of his many charities he supported.

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Stuart was always the guy from Hillend ski centre. When the facility fell on rough times in 2010, a project launched through Facebook attracted 26,000 members along with efforts to inform elected officials of the importance of access for youth. Prominent in the campaign, was Fitzi, through his artwork and enthusiasm.  Now known as Midlothian Snowsport Centre, Hillend, the facility still continues to give young Scots a chance to learn the essentials of skiing.

Hillend_imageHillend_with_kidsPersonal health challenges in recent years meant we no longer saw Fitzi. Through social media, he remained active, reaching out to his many friends throughout the ski fraternity with his Facebook page: “World Cup Downhill Only Ski Racers Ski Sunday Support Team”.

Much of what I’ve shared above comes from the outpouring of memories, sadness and gratitude for a man who had life-long friends from within his ski fraternity of Scottish skiing right to Olympic and World Cup champions, journalists, coaches and sport leaders. Stuart’s energy was infectious. His creativity boundless and frantic. His love for skiing and ski racing a life-long passion. He was one-of-a-kind in the truest sense.

Nick Fellows, a National Team athlete with Team GB but best known now as the voice of Eurosport TV coverage of World Cup skiing, shared the following heartfelt description of a ski racing legend: “The most happy, crazy character of the piste who cared, mentored and gave so many of us the belief anything could be achieved. Fitzi a true rock star of the mountains, thank you for all your guidance and wild days… You will never be forgotten and always revered as a true shining star.”

Music was a big part of our daily life on the Tour. Boom boxes that pounded out in wax rooms while tuning skis, in the vans while driving from race to race or in our rooms as we wrote letters home or decompressed from the day. Around the British Ski Team, UK bands dominated playlists, led by one of Fitzi’s favourites: Rod Stewart. As I reflect back, it’s the lyrics of David Gilmour, Rick Wright and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd that leap out, so aptly describing Fitzi:

Shine on you crazy diamond
Come on you raver, you seer of visions
Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine

 

Rest in peace, Fitzi. Your energy and passion will always brighten our days.

Stuart “Fitzi” Fizsimmons (1956 – 2019)

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On a personal note, the time I was able to spend with the British Ski Team during the winter of 1972-73 and those intense three months from June to August of 1973, were transformative. These young Brits introduced me to the fantastic world of European ski racing. They taught me the ropes, of how to succeed in a sport dominated by the traditional ski powers, with an attitude of “You ask why? We say why not!” All became close friends through our shared passion for fast ski racing. I can never say “thank you” enough to Konrad and to our missing comrades in crime, Fitzi, Peter and Willy.

 

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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.

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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 leadership and his gracious friendship.

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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