New Season, New Energy at 3,883 metres

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It’s July. Glacier training season is underway. From Stelvio to Les-2-alpes to Hintertux and many more glaciers and snowfields across Europe and North America, athletes of every age and ability are back to the snow.

The new “dynamo” of Alpine Canada: Marie-Hélène Thibeault, ACA’s newly minted Director of Philanthropy and Alumni Relations, asked if I might share some personal experiences from recent days on the snow with the Team. You’re going to get to know ‘M&H’. She’s very persuasive and loves to share her passion for ski racing, the new energy and spirit blooming inside our National Team programs. So how could I say no?

This was a double-duty trip for me: combining a series of meetings with International Ski Federation (FIS) officials and helping out with logistics to help Erik as he needed to get to the Fischer factory in Upper Austria and their boot specialist, who resides near Schladming.

Maintaining close contact with an important supporter is critical for success in World Cup. The relationship between athlete and the ski supplier is foundational – and best maintained through direct, personal contact. So it is very important to make the time to visit, meet and directly share information and feedback about how the product felt in the season past, where improvements might be made, learn about new ideas and developments and keep informed – so the pilot (the athlete) is current and making a constructive contribution to the brand team. The better an athlete is in sharing experience and feelings about flex, touch, feel and glide, the more productive the partnership.

IMG_1815And it’s not only skis. Boot fitting is critical. Speaking directly with the experts who build hundreds of boots each year for the world’s best, is invaluable. Taking the time to have boots personalized is essential. Harmonizing the skis, plates, bindings and boots … takes an investment of time. Setup is the key to success at the highest level, so working directly with the best in the industry sets the stage for performance.

IMG_1805So after two intense days with the Fischer Team, it was an nine-hour journey to Zermatt, including the transfer to the train and subsequent ride on the electric taxi to the hotel in automobile-free Zermatt.

The Matterhorn Glacier high above the iconic mountain village of Zermatt has been a regular summer stop for the past several years. Topping out at 3,883 metres, it’s the highest in Europe, with reliable snow and usually stable weather. And after a winter that the locals described as “extraordinary”, snow coverage is better than usual.

For the next ten days, the Canadian World Cup Tech Team will be training beneath the iconic Matterhorn. The athletes will focus on GS and SL training in this block, building on their first on-snow session held three weeks ago in Whistler and preparing for an August racing block in the Southern Hemisphere winter of New Zealand. This planned progression also include an autumn block back on the glaciers for final tune-up before the opening World Cup race in Soelden – now “only” 3 ½ months away.

IMG_4791When you walk out of the tunnel on the Klein Matterhorn, it seems little has changed from my last visit as an athlete in 1982. The spectacular gondola and tram ride to the ‘roof of Switzerland’ is the same. The t-bars spread across the glacier are the same. The training slopes are eerily similar. I can describe where the downhill training run snaked from 3,900m (yes, higher than the top terminal of the tram) to the toe of the glacier four kilometers away.

But that is where the similarities end.

This week the slopes are be buzzing with energy. Teams and athletes from Croatia, Switzerland, Germany, USA, Italy and many more  fill nearly all the available hill space with training lanes. Ski training in alpine, freestyle and snowboard is a roaring business.

To share some perspective: Les 2-Alpes in France has more than 80 training lanes for Teams. So it’s great business for the ski stations who crave guests who want to stay for more than the typical one or two days of your typical summer visitor.

National Teams of the entire FIS family are on the snow. In Zermatt, alpine training lanes cover the steeper upper slopes of both east and west sides of the glacier. An extensive snowboard and free-ski park sprawls across the lower slopes. Athletes converge every day from Zermatt and Cervinia. The hill chatters with a multitude of languages from athletes across the full spectrum of our sport.

The day starts early. Off the valley floor at 6:00am to be on-snow at 7:00. If the weather cooperates, the snow is rock-hard corduroy, a near-perfect match to the mid-winter race courses.IMG_2017

Led by Head Coach Dusan Grasic, the team supporting the men’s World Cup tech team includes Ryan Malmberg and Elias Jonsson working on-hill with Dusan;  Dr.Courtney Brown for medical and  start duties (and much more!); experienced ski technicians Jan Šauperl and Matteo Bortolotti.

They load early to get a head start setting up the training lane. Watching the clock is essential as the window for optimal training is narrow. As soon as the direct rays of the sun hit the snow it begins to soften. Training will wrap up usually by 11:00.

Working the training courses also includes continuous evaluation of equipment. So Jan and Matteo are on the hill to observe and listen, before heading down before the athletes to start working on gear for the next day.

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Canada’s Men’s WC Tech Team Erik Read, Simon Fournier, Morgan Megarry and Trevor Philp. Missing is Phil Brown who is recovering from  knee surgery.

Afternoons are for planned and informal training. On-snow camps offer a chance to move beyond the usual fitness program to use the local environment to mix up the training regimen. A location like Zermatt has incredible mountain biking and hikes in every direction from the town.IMG_1985

At altitude, weather is always a risk. We arrived to 5-6 cm. of powder snow on day one, a novelty for July 4th, but the new snow insulated the groomed track which did not freeze deeply. So training was useful but somewhat limited. Optimal conditions are clear evening skies were the temperatures will plunge on the glacier, resulting in rock-hard snow for the early morning.

And those early mornings are breathtaking. Stepping out onto the Matterhorn Glacier with the soaring peak of the Matterhorn (4,505 m.) jutting sharply into the sky to your right. In the distance, the Mont Blanc massif (4,808 m.) rises out of the haze. The Breithorn (4,164 m.) looms over your left shoulder and even at 7:00am there are climbers trudging to the peak up a well-worn trail. The vast snowfield surrounds you.

This is a moment to breathe …. on the roof of Switzerland, drinking in the grandeur of the Alps, to appreciate the door of adventure that alpine ski racing can open.

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Photos courtesy: CanuckOne

 

 

 

 

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An open letter to Mayor Nahed Nenshi regarding the 2026 Games Bid

Dear Mayor Nenshi:

We want you and your fellow Councillors to make an informed decision regarding 2026.

When it comes to hosting major events, which we define as World Cup events, Canadian sport has been responsible, accountable and must work within our means. Staging annual World Cup events means finite budgets, working with existing infrastructure and delivering events under the exacting eye of FIS Race Directors who hold all Organizers to very high standards. Every year, our region hosts multiple World Cup events – in alpine, biathlon, bobsleigh, cross country, freestyle, luges, skeleton, snowboard, ski cross and speed skating. The International Federations continue to return to our region because our Event Organizing Committees, run by volunteers supported by the National Sport Organizations, run exceptional events.

The sport community has been staging these major events from before the 1988 Games, until today. We have been working relentlessly, year after year, welcoming the world to Canada: at World Cup events in the Olympic Oval, Sliding Track of COP, in alpine skiing at Lake Louise, ski cross at Nakiska, on the freestyle and snowboard slopes of COP. We have become experts. Organizing Committees around the world welcome Canadians who help – most as volunteers – to stage other major events including World Championships, World Cups … and yes, the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

The sport community is responsible. We focus on Legacy, because each year we offer the true Legacy of sport to all Calgarians, residents of southern Alberta, to all of Canada and to athletes around the world. We support these World Cup events and other training opportunities, which are the backbone of our Canadian Teams that performed so well in the 2018 Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang.

I would hope that you and City Council would want to hear directly from those who are the backbone of our sport community. To hear about the hard work, the exceptional volunteer culture, the tremendous energy and profound impact these annual World Cup events have on our current Canadian Team athletes, but more so to those who aspire to reach the international stage – those thousands of young athletes and their parents who dream of representing Canada.

Recognize the remarkable work of our volunteer community. Acknowledge the impact of our current champions. Inspire our next generation of athletes.

Yours sincerely,

Ken Read

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

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Vice Chair, FIS Alpine Executive Board
Chair, FIS Coordination Group for Youth
Chair, FIS Alpine Youth subcommittee
Olympian, 1976, 1980

 

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#Davos2018 – Looking Into The Future Of Our Sport

The athletes have moved on. A select few turn their focus to PyeongChang and competing in the Olympic Winter Games. Most return to their respective Continental Cup series in the Far East, Europa Cup or Nor-Am Tour. There are NCAA Carnivals and Invitationals, along with catch-up time in class.

WJSC logo1For all, there will be the memories of a Junior World Championship experience – the thrill of competition, of testing limits amongst the best 16 to 21 year olds in the world.

While the FIS Alpine Junior World Championships are classed by the International Ski Federation as a ‘level 1’ competition on par with Continental Cup, they are unique. The only high-level competition – reserved for juniors. This is distinct from Continental Cup races where the best are trying to break through to the World Cup. The European Cup is dominated by seniors (21 or older). Nor-Am, Far East and the Southern Hemesphere Cups of South America and Australia/New Zealand have healthy contingents of elite seniors and juniors, but largely from each respective geographic region.

This makes the World Juniors a very special.

The Championship is an important step of the athlete development pathway. Athletes are still learning, gaining experience and preparing for “The Show”. Competition venues are targeted to be at a high level and organization is expected to be on par with a World Championship, but the technical challenge is tailored for juniors – not yet at the World Cup standard.

Second, the World Juniors are an important benchmark opportunity for National Ski Associations, to measure the progress of their athletes and how they measure up against the competition. There is a fairly high – but not absolute – correlation of success between the World Juniors and subsequent World Championship or Olympic podium results.

The core message: only a precious few burst onto the World Cup quickly from the World Junior ranks. The vast majority of athletes may take as long as ten more years to mature into stars. So to coaches, parents and National Ski Associations – be wise, be patient, be supportive and play the long game with your talent. You may be surprised how commitment and hard work may be the key ingredients for ultimate success.

As five-time Gold medalist Marco Odermatt told the FIS Newsflash, “I am extremely happy with my results here at Junior Worlds. It is still a big step to World Cup level, so there is lots of work ahead of me”.

fullsizeoutput_40fThere were high expectations for Team Canada’s juniors going into this season, particularly in the men’s speed events and to defend their World Championship title in the Alpine Team Event. The Team suffered an enormous setback in October, losing Ali Nullmeyer to a double ACL injury. Nullmeyer had won Silver in slalom and was a core member of the Gold medal crew that dominated the Alpine Team Event (ATE) in 2017.

The timing of the 2018 World Juniors posed a real challenge for National Teams who wanted to give Olympic experience to younger athletes, particularly those with speed or alpine combined skill. Travel, proper acclimatization to Korea and the start of official training (which began February 7th) overlapped the races in Davos. But if an athlete is ready for Olympic experience, the chance only comes every four years. So 2016 medalist Jack Crawford made the tough choice and accepted nomination to the 2018 Olympic Team, a good choice in for his long-term development.

This was a Team that is known for charging and the Championship started on a positive note in the men’s downhill, with Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt. Tyee) taking silver – only .02 hundredths from Gold – and Jeffrey Read (Banff Alpine) .29 behind in 6th. Cameron Alexander (Whistler Mt./BC Ski Team) posted an excellent result with his 5th place in the men’s Super G, but the remainder of this competitive crew were amongst a large number that missed gates or had mishaps in a very tricky set. Similar mishaps beset the Canadian Team in the Alpine Combined. They ran up against a Swiss Team that had tremendous experience with the track.

Two youngsters, born in 1999, joined the Team for the technical events: Declan McCormack (Osler Bluff/Ontario Ski Team) and Liam Wallace (Sunshine/Alberta Ski Team). For both, this was their first opportunity to race in Europe, a constructive, positive eye-opener, as these two will be the anchors of Canada’s future World Junior Teams.

Our ladies Team was small with the absence of Nullmeyer and election of Amelia Smart (Team Panorama/Denver) and Cassidy Gray (Team Panorama) to defer participation this year. The attending trio of Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler Mt.), Marina Vilanova (Tremblant) and Stephanie Currie (Osler Bluff/Dartmouth) gained good experience with multiple top-20 results. Nullmeyer, Smart and Gray are all juniors next year and eligible for the 2019 Team.

So results were certainly not what the Team expected. But over the past four years the 1996 to 1998 cohort has a solid record: 23 top ten results, including eight medals. They are competitive in all events, so can move on from junior competition knowing they are in the mix as they mature and prepare for the highest level – aiming for Olympic, World Championship and World Cup competition. They also have a wealth of experience gained in the 2017 World Juniors at Åre, Sweden, which will hosts FIS Alpine World Ski Championships next winter.

The World Juniors are a crystal ball into the future of our sport. This is the future of ski racing, with exciting competitions, large contingents of parents and friends on-hand to cheer on the Teams. We’ve seen glimpses of future greatness, tremendous skill, emotion, passion, tears and cheers. There is much to be positive about – in Canada and around the world – with this snapshot of our best juniors. Fifteen nations placed athletes in the top-10. Eleven nations won medals. We need to be smart and bold with managing speed events in the future, especially for ladies, but the tech events are robust. The skill level is high throughout the field. The future is indeed, bright.

The World Juniors offer a chance to network with the leaders of youth programs from around the world. It is an incredible opportunity to observe the commitment made to youth development, to discuss their goals and hear of their challenges. Perhaps best of all is the privilege of meeting future champions before they step up to an international podium.

Thank you, Davos, for this contribution to our sport, to our athletes.

Now, we look forward to the 38th edition of the FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships in Val di Fassa, located in the beautiful Dolomites of the province of Trentino, from February 18th to 27th, 2019.

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Day 10: #Davos2018 – Norway’s Lie Sweeps Speed Crowns

IMG_6261A little patience was required, as a dusting of overnight snow and unexpected fog delayed the start of today’s ladies downhill, the final event of the 2018 FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships.

“The light snowfall and fog actually helped the track”, said FIS Technical Delegate Bernd Lauth. “It has made a better surface and we should have a very good race”.

LRG_DSC00970As the athletes completed their inspection, the fog which blanketed the lower half of the track began to dissipate, prompting the jury to delay a 1/2 hour. By noon, the track was bathed in bright sunshine and ready for the best junior athletes in the world.

Norway had dominated training and Kasja Vickhoff Lie confirmed her dominance of the speed events of these World Juniors adding the downhill gold to her earlier Super G gold. Swiss pride was salvaged as Juliana Suter took silver and Iulija Pleshkova of Russia captured the bronze.

LRG_DSC01035It was a tightly packed field and Canada’s lone athlete, Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler Mt.) skied a clean, fast top on the steep upper slope of the Jakobshorn, placing 4th only .07 off at the first split. The final result, Fleckenstein finished in 13th place, 1.07 off the pace set by Lie.

Georgia Willinger, racing for New Zealand but a long time member of Kananaskis Ski Club based at Nakiska, was also racing today, finishing 31st.


As the Championship wrapped up, the prestigious Marc Hodler Trophy was on the line with only 7 points separating the top two nations: Switzerland and defending champion Austria.

Once again, home field advantage provided the edge, as the Swiss athletes Juliana Suter (Silver) and Noemi Kolly (6th) outpaced fourth place Julia Scheib who was the lone Austrian speed skier to crack the top ten to score points for the Team overall competition.

Switzerland regained the Marc Hodler Trophy for the first time since 2011 at the last World Juniors to be hosted in Switzerland,  with 127 points ahead of Austria with 113 and Norway with 90. Canada finished in 8th.

LRG_DSC01079“Having this kind of outcome at home Championships is something truly amazing and something that is hard to achieve”, silver medalist Juliana Suter was quoted by FIS Newsflash, as she commented on Switzerland’s great success.

For full results from all competitions, click here.

For an archive of all videos from the livestream production, click here.

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Day 9: #Davos 2018 – Arrival Of A French Rising Star

clement-noelThere was one emerging World Cup rising star and 128 students who were given a lesson in racing on slick surfaces in today’s slalom, the final race for the men at the 2018 World Juniors.

Clement Noel (FRA) who has two World Cup top-10 results this season (6th in Schladming and 8th in Kitzbuhel), provided a masterful display on the water-injected slalom track.

Noel easily outpaced the entire field in the first run by a 1.8 margin and widened the gap in the 2nd from the 30th start position, to win by 2.77. Alex Vinatzer (ITA) claimed silver and Joachim Jagge Lindstoel (NOR) took bronze.

“He skis a very precise smooth line” said French Team Leader Joe Cornec. “With his experience on this surface from World Cup, he is able to be up to 50 centimeters closer to each gate and over a 60-gate course, this is a big advantage.”

From here, Noel will join the French Olympic Team in PyeongChang as the 20-year old junior was selected as their fourth slalom athlete after his breakthrough results on the World Cup. He joins Alexis Pinterault, Victor Muffat-Jeandet and Jean-Baptiste Grange to represent ‘les Bleus”.

Five of six Canadians finished the first run, with only Liam Wallace (Sunshine/Alberta Ski Team) going out.

Riley Seger (photo courtesy Steve Fleckenstein)Riley

Jeffrey Read (Banff Alpine) led the Canadian Team in 8th spot, Simon Fournier (Tremblant) 16th, Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt.) 22nd, Declan McCormack in 28th and Riley Seger was agonizingly close finishing 31st from start position 63.

In the second run, Fournier moved up to 15th and Mulligan to 19th. Read, McCormack and Seger all had mishaps and did not finish.

It was a high attrition day, as only 30 athletes finished out of a field of 129.


Under beautiful blue skies, in preparation for the last event of the 2018 World Juniors, the ladies had a third training run. Stefanie Fleckenstein posted the 17th time. Norwegians dominated, taking the top two spots and placing four in the top seven.

In the Marc Hodler Trophy, with one event to go the Swiss lead has dwindled to 7 points – which demonstrates the depth of the Austrian Team vs. the medal haul of the Swiss stars. The Marc Hodler Trophy scoring is for the top-10 only in 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 format.

Canada now sits in 8th position.


Follow the ladies downhill race on livestream: https://www.swiss-ski.ch/davos2018

 

 

 

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Day 8: #Davos2018 – Odermatt Gold Rush

Marco Odermatt made his mark on this edition of the FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships taking a record fifth gold medal. Today’s result was in giant slalom where he won his first Championship gold in the Sochi World Juniors.

For the record: winning five gold in one edition of the Championship is a new standard. His total of six Junior Golds ties him with Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) of Norway for most in a career.

“This is incredible to me”, said Odermatt as quoted in FIS media. “We have celebrated every medal so far and they just kept coming. I am extremely happy with my results here at Junior Worlds. It is still a big step to World Cup level, so there is lots of work ahead of me.”

It was a near perfect day on the Jakobshorn. One hundred and twenty-nine junior men from 36 nations were tested on a water-injected track, a surface few had ever raced on. “This will be an eye-opener for many of our athletes competing today” said Peter Gerdol, FIS Europa Cup Race Director. Indeed, the track was rock-hard, varied and up-tempo.

Austrian Fabio Gstrein narrowly edged out Odermatt in the first run by .06. A number of the favourites had miscues with the World Cup surface.

In the reverse-30 for the second run, Odermatt’s skills shone through. Skiing from 29th position, the Swiss junior star skied smoothly through the chop to post the fasted time, 0.58 ahead of Alberto Blengini (ITA) who was 2nd fastest on the run, and nearly a second ahead of silver medalist Gstrein and bronze medalist Albert Popov (BUL).

In the first run, Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt. Tyee) straddled a very tough gate that had troubled a number of the first seed skiers. Riley Seger (Whistler) had similar problems at the same gate.

Jeffrey Read (Banff Alpine) had a choppy upper section (63rd), but recovered on the second half of the GS to snare 30th spot. Liam Wallace (Sunshine/Alberta Ski Team) moved up from 67th to 44th spot, Declan McCormack (Osler Bluff/Ontario Ski Team) came in 45th and Simon Fournier (Tremblant) had difficulties on the pitch and came in 70th.

In run two, Read posted the 14th best time to finish 18th. Fournier posted the 38th best time to end up in 43rd place. Wallace nearly completed the steep pitch mid-way in the track but got off-line and went out. McCormack was thrown wide in the rough conditions and hip-slid off the course.

Of the 129th athletes at the start, only 60 finished both runs. A clear indicator of tough race conditions that these juniors will need to adapt to as they look towards competing at the World Cup level where such water-injected surfaces are the norm.


The ladies began training for Thursday’s downhill, with a wise decision by the Race Organizers to offer two training runs – one on the full track, a second which covered about 2/3 of the track. Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler Mt.) is the only Canadian entered and was 12th in the first training run and 13th in the second.


Canada is now ranked 7th in the Marc Hodler Trophy standings, with the Swiss holding a 9-point lead over Austria with two races remaining in the Championship.

Photo Credit: Steve Fleckenstein

 

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Day 7: #Davos2018 – Why Is There A Swiss Gold Rush?

IMG_6248(Edited) Another day, another Gold medal for the host nation. Swiss technical ace Aline Danioth added a fifth gold today for the home team, as the ladies wrapped up their speed events with the Alpine Combined.

Due to the visibility on the north-facing Jakobshorn slopes, the organizers reversed the usual Super G format, going with the Slalom first. This was a dual between two juniors who have already made their mark on the World Cup: Meta Horvat (SLO) who placed 3rd in the Lenzerhide WC slalom and Danioth who has three top 20 results this year on the higher circuit. After this first leg, they were 0.28 apart, but well ahead of the rest of the field.

An unfortunate outcome of running the slalom first, was the high attrition on a water-injected track. From 54 athletes starting, only 32 carried on to the Super G.

In the Super G leg, despite a strong challenge from Franziska Gritsch (AUT), who is also having a banner Championship as she captured bronze and her fourth medal, Danoith slightly increased her lead over Hrovat to take gold by 0.56.IMG_6252

Canadian hopes rested with Stephanie Fleckenstein (Whistler) and Marina Vilanova (Tremblant). Fleckenstein delivered a solid first run to hold down 18th spot after the slalom. Vilanova had a bobble on the steep upper pitch, but ended up 26th. In the Super G, Fleckenstein was able to move up two spots to 16th and Vilanova placed 25th.

With such a gold-medal rush, is there an explanation why the Swiss have become so dominant in this Championship?

Talent would be the first factor to consider. Both Austria and Switzerland put a high emphasis on their development programs, working collaboratively with their ski-gynasiums (Ski Academies). The Austrians have nine, the Swiss three. Both nations also blend their juniors into their World Cup or Europa Cup training groups, giving those who earn a spot on the World Junior Championship Team good exposure to the more mature senior athletes.

But any nation must still be fortunate to have leading talent emerge and this is clearly the case with the Swiss. Marco Odermatt is a confirmed talent who first made his mark in 2016 at the Sochi World Juniors, winning the giant slalom at age 17. He qualified for the top-30 in World Cup GS twice early in the 2016-17 season but missed part of the season due to a knee injury. While he has yet to qualify on World Cup this season, his Europa Cup results include three podiums in deep fields. Danoith is a double-World Junior Champion prior to this year, who also missed last year due to a knee injury, but as noted earlier, has been frequently in the top-30 in World Cup slaloms. In addition to the two leaders, Semyel Bissig is an emerging tech talent, Stephanie Jenal is emerging in speed along with Lars Roesti. Camille Rast, a 17-year old who captured gold last year in slalom, bolstered the Team Event.

But beyond talent is planning.

Since Davos was awarded the World Junior Championships in 2014, the Jakobshorn has been a busy race venue. The past three seasons, the Swiss have organized Europa Cup GS and Super G events, National Championships with all events including a Team competition and several FIS events. In the National Championship lineup in speed – downhill and super G – the Swiss juniors have had 6 races in 2015, 10 in 2016 and 5 in 2017. And in speed, experience counts.

A limited number of juniors from other countries have raced on the Jakobshorn through Europa Cup events, but as most teams are dominated by seniors trying to work their way up to the World Cup, the opportunities for juniors are few.

The strategic advantage of Swiss-Ski has been their effective management of events – use the National Championships which is an event dominated by juniors – to give them venue familiarity and race confidence toward the goal of preparation for the 2018 World Juniors.

You always need the talent, but providing outstanding home field advantage, particularly on a hill that is not terribly tough but does have very tricky terrain – is terrific athlete management.

And of note: the last time Switzerland won the Marc Hodler Trophy as the leading Junior Nation, was in 2011 at Crans-Montana, Switzerland, where the same venue-athlete management was deployed.

 

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