The legacy of the ’88 Games — How Calgary and region can elevate sport to benefit all

Ken Read

Originally Published Feb 24, 2023  

Nations' flags fly at Canada Olympic Park. Hosting international sport events at legacy facilities from the 1988 Olympics boosts Calgary and region's profile on the international stage.
Nations’ flags fly at Canada Olympic Park. Hosting international sport events at legacy facilities from the 1988 Olympics boosts Calgary and region’s profile on the international stage. Photo by Gavin Young /Postmedia Network

In Calgary’s Olympic journey, it is important to reflect on where we came from.

When Frank King boldly put forward the motion to pursue an Olympic bid in late 1979, it’s essential to remember what Calgary had to offer at the time. The region had three local ski resorts in the mountains, with only Norquay having hosted a World Cup in 1972. We could hold hockey tournaments in the Stampede Corral, but not at an international level. We had hosted Skate Canada events in figure skating. We could stage national events in cross-country.

And precious little else. No Flames. Very few indoor gyms.

Few could imagine that four decades later, the winter of 2018-19 would be the busiest international sport year on record for Calgary and region. Sixteen World Cup events were confirmed. Canadian teams in 11 winter sports made use of the legacy facilities of the 1988 Games, plus newer training and competition venues. Paralympians from the five core sports are fully integrated into programming.

Five national sport organizations (NSOs) now call Calgary or Canmore home. The first to move was Alpine Canada, followed by Hockey Canada, Ski Jumping/Nordic Combined Canada, Cross Country Canada and Biathlon Canada. Executive leadership, technical leaders and sport specialists populate the head offices.

The Canmore Nordic Centre, Olympic Oval, Canada Olympic Park and multiple ski resorts — including Lake Louise, Panorama, Norquay and Nakiska — hum with activity, filled with athletes of all levels, from aspiring Olympians/Paralympians to recreational enthusiasts and families.

The Canadian Sport Institute based at Canada Olympic Park and a satellite facility at the Canmore Nordic Centre is now Canada’s largest, serving 580 Olympic and Paralympic athletes, with 173 representing Canada at the Beijing Winter Games of 2022 and Tokyo Summer Games of 2021. World-leading sport services are provided in coaching, nutrition, medical, physiotherapy, monitoring, teaching and community outreach — professionals recruited from Calgary and around the world.

The Human Performance Lab at the University of Calgary is considered one of the leading centres of high-performance sport in the world, with a roster of leading academics who have chosen Canada focusing on biomechanics, high-altitude training, medical research and guiding Canada’s high-performance programs.

In the broader Calgary and Canmore communities, coaches, physiotherapists, leading professionals in sports medicine, and sport practitioners in all aspects of sport — from recreational to development and elite — populate our hospitals, recreational centres and sport venues, providing our community an incredible access to sport knowledge.

How much sport infrastructure existed in Calgary in 1980 when the Olympic bid was a dream? Almost nothing. And what did exist in alpine, hockey and figure skating in 1980 was primarily regional.

My active years with the Canadian Alpine Ski Team were from 1974 to 1983. Facilities for physical training and on-snow training and competition existed, but were basic and certainly not world-class. Physical training in the off-snow months were mostly field work — outside — on the University of Calgary campus. I could access a grimy, quite stinky, free-weight training room in the basement of the phys-ed building.

On-snow, we did all of our training in Europe or in the southern hemisphere, as there was limited snow-making facilities and few proper training venues at our existing ski resorts. Canada did have a core capability to run events, but limited experience at the major international level.

I competed against programs based in Europe that could access glacier venues for summer, national training centres for physical training and monitoring, and multiple winter venues. Fortunately, we were able to access many of these locations through the generosity of other nations but we felt the sting of not only a lack of facilities at home, but also the fact we could not compete in Canada at a World Cup level.

The same was true in the other sports. No Flames. No ISU Grand Prix. No World Cup events other than in alpine.

Winning the 1988 Olympic bid was the watershed moment. Now, venues and facilities were required in all the Olympic sports. Staffing to operate was essential. Volunteers needed to be trained for events. Officials needed to be trained and certified to run pre-Olympic events and support international officials at the Games.

The opening ceremony of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, what at the time was considered the most successful in the history of the Games — and largely driven by the power of volunteers.
The opening ceremony of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, what at the time was considered the most successful in the history of the Games — and largely driven by the power of volunteers. Photo by Jonathan Utz /Postmedia Network

Building this legacy took time. The 1988 Games stimulated the basis for building necessary sport infrastructure. With the venues, the rest could follow.

Sport has an enormous web of human resources that rolls into place, not just to support athletes but to run events, organize event logistics, administer budgets, and oversee medical and technical aspects. Officials need to be trained. Volunteers need to be trained. The ratio of support to the number of athletes in a competition is typically 100:1.

This was Calgary’s secret weapon: our volunteer ethic.

This is a tremendous legacy, one we rarely speak of in Canada, yet it is widely valued in the world of international sport. Our volunteers and officials have served as the backbone of Canadian sport for more than 35 years. They are key recruits for the International Sport Federations of Olympic, Paralympic and World Cup competition in all sports. Hundreds of Canadians that came to Calgary earned their certification and continue to serve, regularly, throughout the world.

And then, there is training. Our region has become well-known for reliable delivery of pre-season training in alpine, cross-country, biathlon and speedskating. The draw of international and national athletes to our region has spawned an industry that has grown beyond Nakiska, the Olympic Oval and Canmore Nordic Centre to encompass Panorama, Lake Louise, Norquay and Castle Mountain. The pre-season revenues from one of these venues over the four weeks of operation before opening to the general public draw in excess of $1.5 million per season — and is growing.

The Olympic Oval, a legacy facility from the 1988 Games, remains a world-class venue.
The Olympic Oval, a legacy facility from the 1988 Games, remains a world-class venue. Photo by Gavin Young /Postmedia Network

While not on the scale of the oilpatch, the sport sector has grown from nearly zero — no employees at a national level and few events in 1980 — to a thriving industry populated by highly trained professionals and athletes that annually brings more than $400 million a year into our economy.

From a tourism perspective, with respect to the cross-country or alpine World Cup events, the worldwide exposure is staggering. The FIS Alpine Ski World Cup at Lake Louise reaches an audience in excess of 200 million for the six events. Cross-country’s audience is similar, biathlon’s even larger. Calgary and region is well-known and valued throughout the winter sporting world, thanks to our annual events.

Now, 35 years after the ’88 Games, we are at a crossroads. The referendum of 2018 was clear.

While I’m disappointed we chose not to embark on a new Games journey, I argue we do not need the Olympics and Paralympics to sustain and continue to build sport in Calgary.

We need our politicians at every level — municipal, provincial and federal — to recognize that sport goes on, every day, year-round, supported by sponsors, donors, families and substantial support from TV and marketing rights for the broadcast of major events run in our community. We have an enormous, internationally respected and vibrant sport sector that lives, works and competes in our region. We have thousands of dedicated volunteers and officials who are highly engaged every year in sport. We are respected hosts of multiple annual World Cup events. We stage hundreds of lower level sport events at multiple venues throughout our region — Continental Cup, international sanctioned events, development events — for hundreds of thousands of development and recreational athletes in our winter and summer sport community.

Sport can be an integral part of the economic goals of our province. Alberta’s 10-year strategy aspires to double tourism receipts to $20 billion by 2030. A healthy sport sector can contribute significantly.

And to our sport community: We don’t need an Olympic/Paralympic bid to galvanize our planning and vision. It is time for sport in our city and our region to sit together, organize one voice to advocate to our province and to speak for the interests of the region — to articulate a vision of where we want to see sport in 2030 and beyond.

There are multiple messages that are critically important to share, and an independent voice that brings together the venue operators, the sport organizations, the service providers and the sport community can objectively share the vision.

It is a message of how we maintain and enhance our existing sport infrastructure without relying on the Games, and to carry that message of the importance of events — at all levels — to our governments and to the community at large. The messages from athletes, coaches and the sport services community are vital. It’s key to articulate what it means to have elite athletes living next door, how this inspires next generations, and how this benefits the community at large with better medical services, recreational facilities and cost-effective access to sport.

Let’s borrow from the late Frank King. Now is the time to be bold. Stick up our hand and call for an initiative that can act as a new catalyst, to energize our sport community to examine how we renew and how we continue the important job of lifting Canadian athletes to do our community and nation proud.

Ken Read is a long-time sports leader in Canada, alpine ski racer, Olympian and five-time World Cup winner.

Ski legend Ken Read, seen at Olympic Plaza in Calgary on Thursday, February 9, 2023, reflects on the 35th anniversary of the 1988 Olympics.
Ski legend Ken Read, seen at Olympic Plaza in Calgary on Thursday, February 9, 2023, reflects on the 35th anniversary of the 1988 Olympics. DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia
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Coming Home

The rising sun cast a breath-taking glow across the front ranges of the Rockies as we wound our way up the switchbacks of Norquay Road. It prompted memories of frequent trips in years past, racing to get to the lodge to be ready in time for the early load on Mystic Chair.

Little changes over the years: athletes gearing up, coaches already out the door and one step ahead of the crew. Gates to be slung up the chair and a few keen parents already with helping hands to assist with the set while athletes focus on warm-up.

It’s a routine found in ski club programs at every mountain or slope across the country. Getting ready for a day of gate training, to hone skills, bank miles on snow and prepare for the excitement of racing to come.

There is a lot of time and effort invested each and every day an alpine ski racing puts in an honest day of training. Safety must be in-place for the entre training area. The track is not just groomed, it needs to be groomed thoroughly with the goal of a firm surface. Start and finish areas built and closed off.

After three months chasing the snow and calendar on the World Cup, returning home to the routines of the ski club can be a welcome break. Familiar surroundings. Friendly banter about recent races. Getting caught up with old friends and meeting newcomers to the FIS Team. A chance to relax, enjoy the old, familiar haunts and decompress – all while keeping in mind the purpose of coming out for a day of training with the “old” Team is to keep skills sharp while on break.

Everyone is keen to see you back. Plenty of questions about Bormio, Val Gardena and Beaver Creek. Was it really that slick? How big is the Kamel-sprung? This is a chance to bring insight from the European Tour back home, to make the World Cup real to the athletes in the club. To provide insight and inspiration. The fodder that helps build the next generation of champions.

At the start, once the course is set and everyone is in place, a little tension surfaces. One of our own is home from the Tour! A chance to measure up against a World Cup athlete! Maybe show a little extra speed… and the die is cast as the entire crew puts on their best face. Pushes a little harder, takes a few extra risks and lays down the best they can offer. The competitiveness lifts a notch.

There is a different set of eyes taking it all in. It’s built into the DNA of every coach to offer what they see. New eyes watching is always good, because it goes two ways: a different perspective and drinking in what drives the elite level. Everybody wins.

The training group is efficient. Turnaround on Mystic is fast and the morning zips by. Times measured, jokes fly and the group bonds. Now there is no World Cup or Ski Club – everyone is a Banff Alpine Racer, putting in the time and working towards a goal of excellence.

Session is over, and the coaches express thanks for coming out. But it really is the other way around. They did the work, providing the training environment and group. They made sure all was ready for the early start. They hefted the gates and set the course. Every time out, the gates were in, timing operational and video ready.

This is the legacy of a high performance ski club. Great coaches, ready to offer training on a moments notice, making time and space to welcome back an alumni of the ski club. Knowing, the athlete will set a tone of excellence in being on-time, prepared and ready to make the most of the training session. Provide a good example to the younger athletes, be a rabbit.

It’s the joy of coming home: a welcome back to the old stomping grounds. A boost of encouragement and the “thank you” for training with are always welcome.

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Winterstart! From unconventional roots to Iconic venue.

By Ken Read Published On: November 21st, 2022 in Ski Racing

The Lake Louise World Cup

It’s been more than a great run; it’s been awesome.

As the world gathers in Lake Louise, it may be the final visit of the “White Circus” to the Canadian Rockies. However, the cherished event and its 42-year run originated most unconventionally. The inaugural Lake Louise World Cup ‘make-up’ race changed the course of Olympic history.

The event has served as a valuable pathway to the podium for generations of Canadian and American speed event skiers. Additionally, it has played a significant role in the careers of many of the stars of alpine ski racing.

The “Winterstart World Cup at Lake Louise” played a vital role in the evolution of World Cup competition in North America. “The Lake” joined Vail as the first annual World Cup stops outside Europe. Both sites proved valuable when, in the early ’90s, the tour shifted from spring races to early winter events.

The Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Alberta proved reliable for delivering great racetracks in the early season. Additionally, they nurtured a bustling early-season training industry built on reliable conditions beyond the competition slopes.

From today’s vantage point, it is hard to imagine a World Cup Tour without annual visits to North America. Yet in the 1970s, the “White Circus” was only a decade old and still forming into the premier winter circuit. Primarily volunteers ran the events. The FIS built the calendar through negotiation, political trade-offs, and a few historic venues. Snowmaking had not yet influenced the reliability of competition venues.

So how did a band of volunteers from western Canada, with little international experience, build an event that became one of the most influential stops on the World Cup?

Olympic, in spirit

The Lake Louise speed venue is named the “Olympic Downhill,” but the sweeping, high-speed slope that snakes down the southwest face of Whitehorn Mountain has never hosted an Olympic event.

Designed by the legendary Willy Schaeffler in the early 1960s for the 1968 Banff Olympic bid, sixty years later, the current track closely follows his original proposal. It is a testament to his vision for an incredible speed venue.

Through the early years before 1980, Lake Louise frequently hosted the Canadian Championships and a handful of FIS events.

A convergence of circumstance and chance opened the door

Chamonix was the venue for the final World Cup downhill of the 1980 season. However, valley fog blanketed the lower slopes of the Arlberg Downhill of Les Houches on race day. With only seven (yes, only 7) downhills calendared in this Olympic year and the discipline title still undecided, World Cup Subcommittee Chair Serge Lang issued a call for a ‘make-up’ race to be squeezed into the final weeks of the season.

Initial responses came from two resorts. The favorite was Bad Kleinkirchheim, known as the “home track” of superstar Franz Klammer. The second site, viewed as unlikely, offered an untested speed venue in Canada. Conventional wisdom suggested that the speed tour would make another trip back to Europe.

Serge always had a sense for ways to grow the World Cup

Circumstances aligned to boost the underdog. Calgary had just launched a bid to host the 1988 Olympic Winter Games. Realizing the city’s low profile compared to the Italian luxury resort and former Olympic host Cortina and the Swedish National Training Centre in Falun, Sweden, bid Chair Frank King immediately expressed strong support for the Lake Louise make-up race. Two long-time sponsors of Canadian skiing – Molson and Alcan – stepped up to back the bid. And the controversial cancellation of a downhill calendared for Whistler in March 1979 lent sympathy towards a Canadian bid.

Boosting the bid was the fact that Canada had never hosted a World Cup downhill or major international speed event. Additionally, the Crazy Canucks had emerged as a speed event powerhouse.

Peter Andrews, Canada’s World Cup subcommittee member, led a courageous lobbying effort. Andrews had developed a close relationship with Lang and lobbied extensively on the benefits this could bring. His efforts worked. Serge Lange agreed to the Lake Louise World Cup. Lang knew it was an opportunity to build a World Cup presence in Canada and North America.

The underdog, Lake Louise, won the prize.

It takes a village Photo Credit Lisa Thomson

Click the top of images to enlarge

Immediately, a Canadian Championship race organizing committee pivoted into hosting a World Cup with four weeks’ notice. The organizers needed to secure every hotel room and arrange the TV broadcast. And to make it more challenging, the organizers only had a few sponsors. Additionally, the slope had no snowmaking capacity. The organizers had limited major event experience and limited safety equipment. And they had less than 30 days to put it all together. 

The intrepid band of volunteers, made up mostly of ski racing parents, rolled up their sleeves and the community came together—race Chair Bill Wearmouth handmade “A” nets in his basement. The Chateau Lake Louise closed for renovations, then opened rooms to house volunteers. 

The gondola base terminal was converted to space for the ski technicians. Sponsors stepped up to cover costs. Whistler shipped in additional safety nets. CBC agreed to broadcast the event using the latest and greatest fiber-optic cable technology. However, that required them to string the revolutionary cable from the top to the bottom of the downhill.

A pivotal moment arrived when Peter Baumgartner, FIS technical delegate assigned for the event, met with the race organizers. The retired Swiss general, well known for his precision and firm manner, declared at the end of this first meeting, “We will hold this race.” This was the spark that drove the band of volunteers into overdrive.

Tuesday, March 4, 1980

Photo Credit Lisa Thomson

A make-up race was squeezed in on a Tuesday between the end of the Lake Placid Games and the final weeks of the World Cup Tour.

When racer #1, Sepp Ferstl, father of current World Cup star Josef Ferstl, pushed out of the start on the upper slopes of Whitehorn, Canada finally became a full-fledged member of the international ski racing community.

Hosting the “Olympic Downhill” at Lake Louise became a seminal moment for the 1988 Olympic bid. At the time, Calgary was primarily unknown on the international sport stage for hosting international hockey and figure skating events.

Many Canadians’ efforts over multiple years deserve the credit for “winning” the Olympic bid. Their dedication and work won the hearts and minds of IOC members.

However, to FIS President and IOC doyen Marc Hodler, it was the volunteer effort to take on an enormous task in such a short time frame and then deliver an exceptional event. In Marc’s words, this was a critical event to influence decision-makers within the IOC.

Securing a slot on the World Cup calendar

The Lake Louise track returned to its roots for the subsequent two seasons by hosting more Canadian Championship events. However, the 1982-83 winter saw Lake Louise on the official World Cup calendar for the first time. The world had changed. Calgary was now host and in full planning mode for the 1988 Games. 

These were the early days of the World Cup. There were few ‘annual’ or classic venues beyond Val d’Isère, Kitzbühel, Wengen and the Arlberg-Kandahar. The concept at the time was to rotate venues. But financial necessity and experience dictated that annual, high-quality venues were essential to stage successful World Cup races. A longer-term commitment enabled the organizer to constantly improve the venue and make capital investments, including the ever-important safety equipment.

Sled Dogs make a plan with Net Monkeys; it could be done without them Photo: Lisa Thomson

Beginning the 1992-93 season, Canada became the annual host of women’s World Cup races at Lake Louise. The following season, “America’s Opening” also became a tour feature. America’s Opening included tech events for both men and women in Park City, followed by the women’s speed opening at Lake Louise. 

After three years of valiantly trying to make an early season date work at Whistler, beginning in 2001, the men’s speed events were permanently moved to Lake Louise.

Providing leadership in athlete development

The progression for younger athletes to the World Cup is always challenging, especially in gaining experience on the most demanding tracks in the world.

From the 1994-95 season, the Winterstart crew at Lake Louise incorporated Nor-Ams into their program. A deliberate effort to provide valuable experience. The selection of the forerunners for the World Cup is from the younger ranks. Additionally, the forerunners for the Nor-Ams are the 1st and 2nd year FIS competitors. For decades this system has offered development athletes high-level speed event experience. 

Lake Louise became the first World Cup venue to incorporate the continental cup level (Nor-Am) into their program annually. This provided a safe, efficient, high-quality training and competition opportunity. The Canadian and US Ski Team athletes have significantly benefited from the program. More athletes from these two national teams have reached the World Cup podium at Lake Louise than any other venue on tour.

To Chip Knight, Alpine Development Director for the US Ski Team, “There are few high-quality speed venues available to the Nor-Am level athlete in North America, so a venue like Lake Louise is invaluable to give those development team athletes a ‘real’ World Cup experience.”

The willingness to provide development opportunities to the next generation is now incorporated at several World Cup venues. These venues include Kvitfjell, Wengen, Kitzbühel, Garmisch, Cortina and St. Moritz. It’s an efficient use of the extraordinary human and capital investment in the World Cup tracks. It provides a stepping stone for younger athletes aspiring to compete on the senior tour.

For the athletes, who have precious few locations in the world to prepare for a long season of competition, Lake Louise is a welcome opening to the winter: a slightly forgiving track providing the wind in your face and preparation of the legs for the subsequent four months of competition.

Photo Lisa Thomson

Best record hosting WC races of the entire tour

The push to move the North American Tour to late November/early December in 1993 was a bold gesture to address the mercurial planning of the World Cup calendar in the 1980s. The goal was to establish a strong presence in alpine ski racing in Canada and the US through annual events held in classic venues.

Early-season races are always subject to the vagaries of the weather. But the advent of enhanced snowmaking systems and the altitude of Colorado and latitude of Canada provided an extra level of security for the tour.

To John Cassels, retired Race Chair for the Lake Louise World Cup, “We rarely meet the snow control deadline (7 days before the 1st training run). We often scramble to be ready for the 1st day of training, but we’re always ready on race day. The reality for us was that we had earned the respect of the FIS race directors, and if we were not ready at snow control, they gave us a pass and let us move forward to training and race days.”

The evidence bears it out. Lake Louise has the best hosting record of the entire World Cup Tour. Since 1980, only four races have been canceled. All four of the cancelations were due to too much snow.

Because Lake Louise, Killington and Beaver Creek could host successful and exciting world-class speed and tech events in the early time slot – when few other venues in the world can – these resorts were cemented into the calendar and also team planning for pre-season training in November. Politics were out; practicality, efficiency and intelligence shaped a reliable calendar for the FIS race directors.

A legacy of volunteers and workers

Photo Lisa Thomson

Their names became synonymous with the Winterstart, and their reach supported Olympic and World Ski Championship events worldwide. They volunteer their services beyond “The Lake.”  The “Sled Dogs” (volunteers) and “Net Monkeys” (event staff) built their reputation for delivering exceptional events at Lake Louise. Their expertise, however, has been willingly shared from Bormio to Beijing.

Many World Cup venues rely on an army of professional staff. However, Lake Louise Winterstart is notable because it is run by a passionate community that has grown to over 400 dedicated volunteers assisting a small, determined work crew. This is how Canada’s World Cup is managed, built and run.

As of October, as they awaited snowfall, the “Net Monkeys,” the renowned core staff for the World Cup, have been on-site, erecting safety equipment: repairing cables, staging padding, air fences and “B” nets. The magic moment came on October 16, when permits allowed snowmaking with adequate temperatures. The volunteer contingent, known as the “Sled Dogs,” joined in for hill cleanup and staging, working alongside the Net Monkeys to ensure preparations progressed smoothly.

It’s the TV audience …and innovative ideas

Lake Louise is often criticized for its small crowd size. But knowledgeable observers of the World Cup know nearly all events before the Christmas holidays deliver enormous worldwide TV audiences.

This is the organizer’s dilemma: securing the best slopes often requires deep intrusions into a resort’s best skiing. Hosting major events has typically been best in the shoulder seasons, where accommodations are available for all teams and the event entourage. The focus can be to deliver an outstanding track and use the profile to attract attention to the snow sports community.

Lake Louise is always a home run with a global television audience. According to the annual evaluation provided by Nielsen, it exceeds 60 million viewers.

Enthusiasts anxiously anticipate the broadcast of Lake Louise. The audience numbers are enhanced by prime-time weekend time slots in European ski racing viewing markets. Lake Louise has provided a reliable launch of the World Cup to large European TV audiences, able to tune in at 8:00 pm.

There is a unique twist to Lake Louise. Based in Banff National Park, every participant – including athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers – are in hotel rooms. This leaves limited availability for spectators.

Organizers are partnering with key community leaders to explore innovative ways for targeted attendance.

The World Cup Business Forum, now celebrating its 20th anniversary, brings business, political, environmental, aboriginal, and sport leaders together to discuss weighty topics such as climate change, first nations leadership in energy, pipelines and social media impact. This idea grew from the reality that nearly every hotel bed in the Lake Louise townsite is occupied by athletes, coaches, team support, volunteers, staff and officials.

With this limited ability to draw a large crowd to the event, the idea was to create a world-class forum and invite a select community keen to hear from leading business and political leaders while also taking in the excitement of a world-class event in Banff National Park.

Photo Credit Lisa Thomson

A legacy of excellence

The stars of our sport made their mark at “The Lake”: Svindal, Vonn, Kucera, Seizinger and Eberharter. Lake Louise has now hosted more World Cup races than any venue in North America. As the “World Cup Speed Opener,” these races provided the preview for the season.

For now, it’s so long, but perhaps not goodbye

Lake Louise has had an extraordinary run. That first race committee only focused on delivering a quality event. They had no expectations that the first race would become established, mature and grow to become a celebrated part of the tour.

In the words of Peter Obernauer, former Chief of Race for the Hahnenkamm and frequent visitor to Lake Louise, “This is a special place. It’s not Kitzbühel and never will be. It’s different. All the athletes and staff stay at the same amazing hotel. The location is breathtakingly beautiful. No venue can host a downhill at this time of year. It’s not Kitzbühel, but then Kitzbühel could never be Lake Louise. And that is what makes the World Cup Tour so unique.”

Over the years, there have been several hosting gaps at Lake Louise. But in time, the value of a reliable and challenging race track draws the World Cup back to “The Lake”: To the beautiful vista of the morning sun breaking on the upper ridges of the Canadian Rockies, the wildlife shots of deer and lynx, where snow is reliable and the friendly camaraderie of volunteers, officials, spectators and the ski community gather to celebrate the world’s best athletes who dare to test the limits of their speed.

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Dave Ryding: World Cup Winner, Setting New Standards

This Saturday on the famous “Ganslern” slalom hill at Kitzbuhel, 35-year old David Ryding of Great Britain broke multiple barriers.

Perhaps the most important to him, was becoming the UK’s first World Cup winner in 55 years of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup.

Ironically, his win came within the week of our sport celebrating 100 years since the first ever slalom race, run in Mürren, Switzerland. Alpine ski racing was founded by the Brits, with founding icon Sir Arnold Lunn of the Kandahar Ski Club codifying the rules for the sport in 1921 and the first race run in January/ 1922.

Planet Ski provides a thorough summary of David’s story – a truly remarkable pathway to the top of the podium and an inspiration to any young athlete and their family who believe they can succeed. Dave overcame multiple barriers through an unconventional route that should be an example for all – and a lesson to those who administer sport. (link to story below)

Why Dave’s Hahnenkamm win so remarkable?
– he started on a plastic slope at age 8
– on snow at a ‘relatively’ late age
– 1st top 30, age 26
– 1st World Cup podium, age 30
– 1st World Cup win, age 35

The lessons to be learned: all too often todays athlete pathway is ‘shaped’ by those who forecast “medal potential” and marshal precious financial resources based on these metrics. But the real measure of athletic success is shaped by:
1) the personal commitment to excellence by the athlete
2) long-term development planning
3) strong athletic programs, including great technical leadership
4) patience

Sport is a dynamic, ever-changing environment. In skiing, tennis, football, golf, athletics, swimming and so many more, age is no longer a ‘limitation’ to success. We can find mature athletes breaking age barriers – and while many were successful from an early age, many were not.

Ryding was not alone this past weekend in setting new benchmarks. 41-year old Johan Clarey of France placed 2nd in the Hahnenkamm downhill.

The greatest tragedy of sport, is to end a career based on ‘the probability of future medal potential’. Ryding and others prove there are better metrics, including progression, careful evaluation of ranking and experience, how to build strong team cohorts that spawn sustained athletic success and team culture. Age is not a metric that should be used to measure the potential of an athlete that continues to evolve, mature and lead.

A truism of sport: if an athlete is not in the start gate, they will not win.

Link to Planet Ski Story about David Ryding:

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The Soul Of Our Sport: volunteers, officials and race crew

Throughout November and early December, an army of volunteers, officials, ski resort staff, race crew and race administrators have been working tirelessly, relentlessly to deliver another world-class venue, event and opportunity to our athletes in Lake Louise.

No other ski resort in the world runs two World Cup events and a Nor-Am: this year 12 race starts for the best in the world and the next generation of champions.

Six WC races, 6 Nor-Am races.

This dedicated crew do this because they take great pride in their work, in what they are able to accomplish each year and in the opportunity they provide to our athletes and inspiration to younger generations.

Over 22 continuous years, the Lake Louise Audi FIS Ski World Cup has become the most successful World Cup venue for Canadian Alpine Ski Team athletes – thanks to the Nor-Am and the opportunity to share their base experience in the big leagues.

This dedicated army does it with little fanfare or recognition – and too often without thanks.

So in a very modest way, here is a representation of some of the faces and tasks these heroes of ski racing.Thank you, from everyone in our alpine ski racing community, for what you do every year.

Note: Lake Louise has been hosting World Cup races since 1980, and annually since 1991. The Olympic downhill was developed for ski racing in 1962, as part of the Banff/Calgary bids for the Olympic Winter Games of 1964, 1968 and 1972.

The 1980 World Cup at Lake Louise was the 1st downhill ever staged in Canada. Over fourty years, the Winterstart World Cup races have built a volunteer ethic that powers sport events in western Canada.

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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.


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.


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:

Mount Baldy, California Reopens Wednesday, April 22:

Fonna Opens May 1st!:

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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:

Alpine Combined Results:



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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.


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!






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