November 3, 2015
If passion for skiing is the critical difference in success in ski racing, then it is no wonder Mike Wiegele mentored three World Cup winners and established two enormously successful ski clubs. With his infectious cry of “Let’s go skiing!” for over fifty years Mike has been shaping ski racing and winter sport in Canada.
Emigrating to Canada in 1959 from his native Austria, who could have known that less than twenty years later one of his young Canadian protégés would return to win a World Cup downhill in Schladming, not far from his native Kärnten. Through his leadership of both the Lake Louise Ski Club and founding of the Bow Valley Quikkies and Banff Alpine Racers, Mike had direct influence on three Canadians who scored 26 World Cup podiums, including 8 victories as well as a very long list of athletes who had successful careers with the Canadian Alpine Ski Team.
When you speak with Mike about ski racing, you see enthusiasm shine in his eyes. “When I raced in Austria and later in Canada, I always went skiing after the race was done. At the end of the season, my friends would call me up to come to the year-end banquets, where I would receive all these trophies, because I had missed the awards ceremonies as I was out skiing after every race. I just loved it so much!”
His eyes were set on western Canada, but his racing and instructing initially took him away to more active ski communities. Mike worked with the legendary Ernie McCulloch at Mont-Tremblant (1960) and raced in the United States with ski racing greats Billy Kidd, Jimmie Heuga and Buddy Werner. But armed with some good advice from Hannes Schroll, Director of the Sugar Bowl Ski School in Lake Tahoe, California found Mike headed back to Canada (Mike was working in his ski school at the time). “He asked me “what do you want to do?” and then shared with me “If you want to leave your mark on this sport, go back up to Canada. Find yourself a good mountain with deep snow. And develop that.”
So in 1966, Mike became the Founding Director of the Lake Louise ski school where he also established a racing program. It started a life-long partnership with his wife Bonnie that would transform Canadian ski racing. “Bonnie and I loved to work with kids”, continued Mike. “With her gymnastic and syncro swimming background, we could offer a multi-sport training environment which helped with the regular dryland program. We knew kids loved to go fast, so we focused on giant slalom and downhill, particularly the fundamentals of downhill because we had a great hill to work with (Lake Louise). We were never afraid to stand up and fight for what is best for a youngster.” And the goal was to instill a core passion for skiing. “You have to love skiing more than racing,” added Mike. “That’s what drives you to get out there on your own, no one to argue with. To develop that line and the feeling for the flow, that’s what makes you successful.”
“When I first came to Canada, I could see the shortcomings in organization” said Mike. “It was a real uphill battle as we didn’t have role models or a legacy of winners like the Austrians. But what we did have was great parent support in the club. I could rely on an amazing group of families to run the races and support the club. That made up the difference”.
Firmly establishing the philosophy of ski racing excellence within the culture of two of Canada’s leading ski clubs has left an enduring legacy of excellence. “It’s a cycle” says Mike. “I wanted to be sure every youngster loved skiing. From this, I knew they would be motivated to be better. And I always wanted them to respect the sport and the mountain. We balanced the mix between gates and free-skiing so we could ski all day. These, are the fundamentals of skiing.”
Not many coaches working at the club level have the chance to work with three athletes that found success on the world stage. “I could see the fundamentals when they were developing” said Mike. “They worked hard, skied smart and listened. I would tell them what to do and the next run, they would do it. And they all loved to ski.” When asked what he felt when each won on the World Cup, Mike went very quiet for a moment. Then, with emotion in his voice he simply said “awesome, just awesome.”
From ski schools and ski racing, Mike harnessed that passion towards his next venture, founding Mike Wiegele Heli-Skiing, which has brought the spectacular beauty of the Caribou-Monashees to thousands of powder enthusiasts. The family owned operation is now led by his daughter, Michelle. He continues to support ski racing in Canada as a sponsor of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team, offering end of season skiing to successful members of the Team. And it’s not unusual to find an Olympic Champion, such as Marcel Hirscher, dropping in for some epic powder days.
Alberta Alpine and the Friends of Alberta Ski Team congratulate Mike Wiegele for his induction into the Canadian Rockies Ski Racing Hall of Fame as an Honoured Lifetime Builder. Join us to recognize his contribution to alpine ski racing at the 47th Return of the Champions at the Calgary Petroleum Club on Tuesday, November 10th. The “Return of the Champions” is an Alberta Alpine event. All funds raised are to support athlete development and Alberta Alpine programs.
Photos courtesy Mike Wiegele