For most of us, ‘The Caribou’ would be taken as the Caribou Lodge in Banff. For over 40 years it has a whole different meaning to young ski racers in the Canadian Rockies.
This past weekend, over 200 enthusiastic U12 ski racers from all over the province converged on the slopes of Banff Mount Norquay for ‘The Caribou’.
It’s the highlight of their young sporting lives, the highest level of competition this winter for these 9 to 11 year old athletes.
Since 1978, every young ski racer in the province has faced down the slope of Rob’s Run, screwing up their courage to launch onto the giant slalom race course on day one. On day two, it’s a fun Team dual slalom.
Now this isn’t a full-blown championship. This is, after all, the entry level of competition for young skiers who are exploring their interest in the competitive side of skiing. For many, it’s their first year racing in gates. Rules now permit downhill suits, so most are aiming to look like their heroes on the World Cup Tour.
What it is, though, is pure fun. Young athletes are here to race because they love to ski. Many of them won’t progress on to the next level of ski racing (but we sure hope they do). This is their Olympics. They’re not doing it for money or a picture in the paper. It’s pure enthusiasm. And it is so refreshing to watch. It’s a wonderful reminder of why we all enjoy participating in sports. The kids bring out the memories of the playful child hidden deep within each and every one of us.
On Saturday, they get to race with their friends, each get a photo taken by well-known Banff photographer Malcolm Carmichael, who has become an icon with this event having provided photos for nearly three decades (that’s dedication!).
It is no easy task to find sponsors to support amateur sport and even harder for youth events. But when the name of a sponsor, through their dedication and perseverance, becomes part of the terminology of the sport, it has to be considered a brilliant move.
The race was started in 1978 and was known as ‘The Snowflake Cup’. ‘Thanks to the generosity of Ross Pringle, owner of the Thunderbird Souvenir Shop in Banff, it gained a sponsor and became the ‘The Thunderbird’. In the 1990’s, Wim Pauw and Neil Tanner, owners of the Caribou Lodge in Banff, stepped up and took over sponsorship and since it has been named ‘The Caribou’.
With 41 years of history, ask the thousands of youngsters that have passed through the start gate what ‘The Caribou’ means and they’ll tell you it’s a really cool ski race. A pretty sharp move by these Banff entrepreneurs who demonstrated their commitment to youth and to ski racing by directing their marketing dollars to a children’s race rather than a high profile event.
A 35 second giant slalom run down Rascal at Banff Mount Norquay is a long way from the National Ski Team or the Olympics. But the list of graduates from “The Caribou” includes Olympic and World Championship medalist Jan Hudec, World Champion Johnny Kucera, World Cup winner Thomas Grandi and current Canadian Ski Team members Trevor Philp as well as Erik and Jeffrey Read.
You can bet Ross, Wim and Neil are very proud of these graduates and many more, as would be the many dedicated volunteers and parents who year after year invest many long hours organizing and running the race.
Who knows? A future Olympic champion may be at the start this weekend. But this won’t be a concern for any of these kids. They’re just excited to be racing in ‘The Caribou’.
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This is an updated version of a story which originally appeared in February/2001.