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.