The limitless love of parents

Finlay3A fast track, changing conditions and in a moment, a life changed forever. On February 24, 1978, while competing in the Canadian Alpine Ski Championships, Scott Finlay crashed.

A fall in downhill racing is rare, particularly for experienced athletes. Sadly, the combination of  jumps and the rock-hard snow resulted in an impact that caused brain trauma. Scott survived, but has been under the care of his parents, Hugh and Rosemary, for most of the past fourty years.

Imagine the angst of Rosemary and Hugh, as time marched on. What would happen to Scott? Where would he live? Who would be his caretaker?

In tragedy, there is always hope. And the love of parents is limitless. The Finlay’s remain committed to Scott as much today as ever. Their tireless effort to find a permanent home for Scott became a reality in Finlay House, a facility for those with acquired brain injuries, located just outside Napanee, Ontario where Scott learned to ski.

Hugh always directs credit to others in this long journey. First and foremost, he recognizes the late Randy Starkman, Canada’s foremost journalist in the Olympic and amateur sport world. Randy learned of Scott’s story and the efforts of Rosemary and Hugh to find him a home. It was no surprise to any of us who knew Randy, that he took up this cause and brought profile through his thoughtful writing, particularly with his piece “When love runs out of time” published in the Toronto Star in 2011. (https://www.thestar.com/sports/2011/03/11/when_love_runs_out_of_time_parents_fear_for_injured_son.html)

Finlay1And Hugh always mentions Ed Champagne, former Manager of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team and current Manager of the Team Alumni program. Ed, too, always shared updates about Scott with the widely dispersed alumni of the Ski Team. Kept everyone informed, particularly when the momentum for a facility took shape.

There also are Scott’s teammates and ski racing friends who worked tirelessly behind the scene to lobby government, secure donations and keep the momentum alive. Heroes, every one.

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Regardless of what Hugh may say about others helping, it was their drive, their love for their son, that made Finlay House a reality for Scott and five others who now live with him.

Speak with Hugh and he always mentions how keen Scott is about watching ski racing. He’ll tell you how excited he becomes and that he is the number one fan of the current athletes. He speaks so positively about all who helped make the facility and Scott’s future a reality. His appreciation of the support of the ski racing community and friends. He is so gracious, so positive and his love – and Rosemary’s – is without limit for their son and all of the Finlay family.

Read the Toronto Star story by Kerry Gillespie, who carries on the Toronto Star tradition of original sport content about Canada’s Olympic and amateur sport athletes, which was posted September 14, 2017.
https://www.thestar.com/sports/amateur/2017/09/14/canadian-skier-injured-in-1978-is-right-at-home-in-finlay-home.html

 

 

 

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The Power of sport, to help, to inspire

I’ve been following Jeff Bell for fifteen years, ever since his dad, Don, asked me what to do with his rambunctious youngster who was crazy about skiing.

My advice at the time, was to join a ski club and channel his energy into ski racing. Use the discipline of a program to build his skiing skills. Get the opportunity to meet other youngsters on the mountain (and parents for Dad). Take the sport as far as you can, as you never know what might develop.

Fifteen years later, Jeff Bell is now a Junior at Montana State, a valued member of the MSU Bobcats Ski Team. Within the decade, he earned a spot on the Canadian Team to the 2012 FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships, finishing 16th in the alpine combined. He represented his province, Alberta, as a member of the Alberta Ski Team.

Jeff has channeled tremendous energy into alpine ski racing and now, his studies at MSU. But he has made the time to make a difference – give back to his community.Charity-Support-Contract-1-e1466803897261-700x330

DeSonus. Remember the name. As CEO of DeSonus, Jeff has rallied his family – who are a creative bundle of energy – the community in Airdrie and Calgary – and so many businesses and individuals who see the merit in his passion.

What is DeSonus? It’s a charity started by Jeff in 2015 that affiliates with different community causes every year, through a concert that celebrates the joy of music and entertainment. Jeff, his mom and his siblings have tremendous talent and are harnessing this gift to attract talent and crowds for a tremendously entertaining evening.

In the third edition of DeSonus this Satuday, a boisterous crowd was out to support the Creative Impact Health Foundation, a group led by one of Jeff’s skiing heroes – Canadian Olympian Brad Spence – who is using helmet art to bring attention to those living with brain trauma and concussion. The other co-beneficiary of DeSonus is On The Tip Of The Toes whose mission is to help young people living with cancer to regain their well-being through adventure challenges.IMG_5499

We regularly hear about well-known artists and athletes that demonstrate strong social responsibility to help those in need or distress. It’s the power of sport and entertainment to rally much needed awareness and support.

Jeff is an NCAA alpine ski racer, blessed with a talented family and friends who is powerfully motivated to make a difference – while he continues to work on his degree and race for the MSU Bobcats Ski Team. He’s showing that the power of a dream, hard work and motivating your friends can have an incredible outcome.

For more information, go to http://www.DeSonus.ca

Enjoy some images from #DeSonus2017.

 

 

 

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Summer Sessions: A day on the glacier

The days start early. Training is always at high altitude. You hydrate and eat constantly. A day on the glacier is always tough both mentally and physically. But the snow conditions are typically excellent, making for high volume and an efficient start to the new season.

A typical day starts with a 6:15 am load. In Zermatt, it’s 45 minutes from valley floor to the Klein Matterhorn peak. We’re on snow at 7:00am. The air temperature is around -7 or -8c on a mid-summer day, but the snow is rock, hard. Groomed corduroy from the softer snow that has frozen overnight.

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The session will run around 4 to 5 hours. Uphill transport in Zermatt is by t-bar (very good continuous snow contact, but tiring as you are on your feet all morning).

IMG_4843The routine starts with a good warmup to prepare for the day – both activation and also drills, before a full session of gates – SL or GS. Gate training is usually underway by 8:00. Depending on conditions and how long the snow will remain firm, the next 3 to 4 hours will be focused on running gates.

FullSizeRender 2Training a 60 second course at nearly 4,000 metres literally takes your breath away. So pacing is important. Drinking fluids even more so. The glacier environment is very dry. Constant intake of food – snacks, fruit – are critically important to keep the energy levels up. Midway through every session, breakfast seems like a distant memory.IMG_4844

Zermatt’s layout is excellent, with multiple lanes that can accommodate speed and technical training, with an extensive freeride park alongside the alpine ski racing lanes. The profile of the glacier permits everything from World Cup caliber lanes to gentle slopes for the large groups of much younger athletes.

By mid-day, roughly 11:00, the snow begins to soften and is no longer firm enough to be productive, so courses are taken down and the 45 journey to valley floor is repeated in reverse.

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Afternoons are occupied by dryland training sessions which range from lifting to hikes to football (yes, soccer). After dinner, equipment issues are addresses, video reviewed and plans are put in place to do it all again, tomorrow.

Glacier insight: a latte at the ‘Bar del Rifugio” on the Italian side of the Plateau Rosa is 1.50 Euro. The same latte is 5 Swiss Francs in Zermatt. Guess where the coaches make a bee-line to once the courses are set up and athletes are focused on warm-up?

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Summer Sessions: Mornings at 3,883m

You can feel the altitude at 3,883 metres. The air is dry. Temperatures in the early morning hours hover around -10c. Visibility on good days is unlimited. It’s hard, mid-winter snow, often a dusting of powder over groomed corduroy.

IMG_4778Iconic mountains loom nearby. The famous dagger of the Matterhorn to the south. Mt. Blanc Massif is on the distant horizon. Alpinists slowly ascend the Breithorn to the north. The air is clean and clear. Colours vivid against a backdrop of white.

These are early starts, to take advantage of the hard snow which typically softens by 11:00. So we step out of the tunnel carved through the Klein Matterhorn close to 7:00am. On a good day, with cooler temperatures, the hard snow will last until noon, enough time for a solid session of slalom, GS or super G.

On the Matterhorngletscher, uphill transport is by t-bar to allow for the moving ice. This environment is always changing, so you always respect the mountain and glacier.

We’re joined by hundreds of ski racers and coaches. National Teams from Germany, Croatia and of course Switzerland. Private teams, regional teams and hundreds of kids from both sides of the mountain – some coming up from Zermatt, others from Cervinia.

The advantage of Zermatt is the altitude. As the highest training location in Europe, the snow conditions are reliable – the closest one can find to mid-winter in the summer months. In the early summer, the race lanes rented to the teams are dominated by technical skiers focused to slalom and giant slalom, with limited super G. While the teams train, mountain operations work on closing the crevasses to build a speed track which opens in August to permit full downhill and super G training as well as a full length giant slalom.

It’s a rare privilege to return once again to Zermatt and this very special glacier. To take in the spectacular beauty of the mountain environment at 3,883 metres. To share a ride on the lift with World Cup winners. To watch the best in the world, hard at work with drills and courses, honing their craft as they begin their journey towards Soelden, a mere four months away.

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The Summer Sessions: The Fischer Family

After three years competing as an NCAA athlete, Erik Read is now able to sign formally with Alpine Canada Pool ski suppliers.

IMG_4772This past Thursday, it was made official. Continuing for another two seasons with the Fischer Family who have been so supportive. “This is a great partnership” said Read. “The Fischer Team has been solidly behind me through the Nor-Am Tour and transitioning to the World Cup level. I’m grateful for their dedication to my career and for the support of everyone who provides me with such great service and product.”

The 2016-17 season was a breakout winter, with four top ten results from three different events. The highlight was a 7th place on the historic Ganslern track in the 77th running of the Hahnenkamm races at Kitzbuhel, Austria.

Other top ten results included 6th in the alpine combined in St-Catarina, 8th on the Face 2017_ZagrebBellevarde GS track in Val d’Isere and 9th in giant slalom on the Orieller-Killy piste also in Val d’Isere.

He was also a member of the Canadian Team which captured silver in the Alpine Team event at the 2015 FIS Alpine Ski World Championships. The same team finished 5th at the 2017 Worlds.

“This past season, my equipment was dialed in”, said Erik. “The Fischer boot guys – Reinhold Gappmaier and Hannes Reiter – did an amazing job to get the new Podium 150 working for me in both of my main events. And the Fischer Team at the factory was very supportive of our rep, Jan Šauperl, working closely with him.”

Erik is currently in Zermatt, Switzerland fine-tuning equipment prior to the first official on-snow session with the Canadian World Cup Combi Group, which will open next week in nearby Saas-Fee.

Photos courtesy @FischerSports

You can follow Erik on Instagram at Facebook at:

Instagram: hipsterikal

Facebook: skierikread

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With Fischer Sports CEO Franz Foettinger

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The Summer Sessions – Day 1

IMG_4761Sometimes the weather just doesn’t want to cooperate. The jagged tooth of the Matterhorn that towers over this Swiss mountain resort was not to be found this morning, with high winds closing the glacier.

Zermatt has a great reputation for good conditions, but there are those days when you just have to surrender and make the most of a day off.

So instead of hitting the slopes, it’s a lay day. Another day to check the gear, do some dryland training. Take advantage of an opening in the program to inspect the beautiful Mattertal. Do a hike. And catch up on sleep to push away the jet-lag.

The past three days have been productive. Visits to the factory and reps to organize gear for testing. A reconnaissance visit to Davos, host of the 2018 FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships.

IMG_4726Fresh off the plane on Thursday, first stop was with Fischer. A chance to connect, discuss testing of equipment to date. Lots of good work to prepare gear to test for this session on-snow.

Then we were off to Davos, to familiarize with the town and slopes in advance of the 2018 World Juniors. The race venue is centered on the Jakobshorn, which towers over the south side of the resort. The speed track starts from the peak, descending to an alpine plateau that sits some 500 metres above the town. The tech track is immediately adjacent to speed track, so with a common finish area it’s a compact race arena.

As the downhill is 450 metres vertical, unique to this Championship will be a two-run downhill for the men. We checked out both tech and speed venues with an early morning hike from valley floor to peak.

Then it was on to Zermatt for a week of equipment testing. The Canadian Junior/Devo Group headed to Les Deux Alpes for their first on-snow session.

IMG_4769So what does one do when the mountain is closed for the day? In Zermatt, you have a rich choice of hiking in every direction. Even without the signature peaks framing the backdrop, the Mattertal is one beautiful spot.

This afternoon I had a ‘walk up memory lane’, hiking the Gornergrat. This was the first time up in 42 years. My last visit was November, 1975 for our final training camp prior to the opening of the World Cup season. A tremendous tune-up, as the race in Val d’Isere two weeks later proved to be a memorable one for the Crazy Canucks.

In the mountain environment we are held hostage to the elements. The Klein Matterhorn top station is at 3,883 metres, so wind and weather dictate our access to the snow. Fingers crossed for more of those epic days where the images from the Matterhorngletscher take your breath away.

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Today, we are all Lobos.

Who are the Lobos? You may ask yourself as a fan of sport, as a ski racer or a skier why do I care?

New_Mexico_Lobos_logoOn Thursday, April 13 the Athletic Director of the University of New Mexico cut a 47-year old ski program that included both alpine and nordic ski programs for women and men.

So why should we care? We should be shocked that poor administrative decisions and budgeting are solved by cutting an athletic program – where the athletes pay the price. We should be outraged in an era of Title IX that a female athletic program is cast aside. We should be calling for accountability. And we should be demanding that any college or university puts athletes first. But as skiers and ski racers, we should be prepared to step up and fight hard for our ski racing programs.

We need to show, through overwhelming public reaction, that we care. We care about the athletes who made a commitment to the University of New Mexico, moved to Albuquerque and were ready to put four years of their lives into racing for their ski team and for their university …. to become Lobos.

We care about an NCAA ski system that has strength – which it does – with the growing interest in the Eastern Collegiate Ski Association, with new institutions working hard to join, with athletes at a wider number of colleges and universities qualifying for the NCAA Finals, for the growing number of Carnivals. That we care about a robust Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association, that has tremendous strength in the quality of competition.

Jonas+RaasinenWe care about the well-being of our communities. That each NCAA Invitational or Carnival is an important part of the fabric of our ski family. They bring revenue and profile to host ski resorts and the surrounding hotels and restaurants. Red River Ski Area is the training venue for the UNM Lobos and is the host resort for the UNM Invitational. The ski area is owned by Drew Judycki, a young skier from Massachusetts who first came to New Mexico as a college student. The reach of each NCAA Invitational and the broad international following of NCAA ski racing puts ski resorts on the map, has significant economic impact and builds tremendous pride.redriver

The skiing community cares about instilling excellence in our youth and skiing student-athletes across the US  lead the NCAA. Skiing student-athletes hold the highest ranking for all NCAA sports nationally (by quite a wide margin). The Lobos Ski Team are ranked at the top in academics at UNM — the women’s team has a collective 3.9 GPA, while the men own a mark of 3.6.

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Note: in chart above, MSK is men’s skiing; WSK is women’s skiing

We care that NCAA skiing is now confirmed as a viable pathway to international excellence in alpine and cross country. The number of athletes that call themselves NCAA student-athletes or have graduated from NCAA skiing and are members of National Teams and compete in Olympic, World Championship or World Cup events, has never been higher. The list is impressive, led by 2017 World Championship bronze medalist Lief-Kristian Haugen (Denver) and the USA’s top slalom skier and 10th in the 2017 Championships in GS – David Chodounsky (Dartmouth). Other NCAA alumni who are making their mark on the world stage are from New Mexico (Joonas Rasinen 2013 NCAA SL Champion), Vermont (2017 European Cup overall winner Kristina Riis-Johannessen), Colorado (David Ketterer), Utah (Mark Engel), Westminster (Gulio Bosca). A similar list of exceptional athletes comes from cross country. (here is a link to a story in Faster Skier which captures the human cost and potential loss to US sport in Nordic skiing: http://fasterskier.com/fsarticle/after-the-podium-brenna-egan-and-the-human-cost-of-cutting-skiing/)18548_skiing_defunding_cpf

Over the past decade, the quality of athlete competing in NCAA skiing has lifted to the point where it is viable to race for four years, gain maturity and strength and return to a National Team and be competitive at the highest level. “The NCAA pathway makes a lot of sense”, David Chodounsky told me at Copper Mountain this past November. “It gave me time to mature physically, which I needed. So when I graduated, I had my degree and I was ready both physically and mentally to make a long-term commitment to ski racing excellence.” For those who are keen on stats, Chodounsky scored his first World Cup points at 27.

But where we, in the alpine ski racing community, should really care, is the broad impact of NCAA racing on our system in North America. The robust NCAA programs ensure the Nor-Am Tour is a viable and healthy step for all young athletes as they aim for the highest levels. The competition, the point profile, the diversity of nations and skill strengthen the Nor-Am, making the step to National Teams and beyond substantively more robust. We need a strong NCAA system to keep the Nor-Am strong.

It has been put forward that “there are now less than 35 ski programs that compete in NCAA”. This leaves a false impression. In fact, NCAA skiing has been growing with several schools clamoring to be added. The western conference (RMSIA) has seen Alaska survive a budget scare through public support for the program. Westminster is joining this season. Certainly, some schools do only offer partial programs, as several compete only in alpine or nordic. But this is not a relevant reason to discontinue a program, nor is the fact the team trains at a location 3 hours away from campus – in the nearby mountains – this is a reality all ski racers face throughout their careers.

Yes, it “only” affects 18 athletes, but this decision – if it stands – makes it very challenging for any of these athletes to maintain a high performance program or compete on the NCAA circuit without coaching or team support.

We need our National Ski Associations, regional and provincial programs, all ski clubs, athletes and parents to step up and show we care. As of last Thursday, we are all Lobos, to show our solidarity with the athletes, coaches and the families.

Sign the petition to show UNM we care about the Lobos Ski Team and NCAA skiing.

Link to petition: http://www.change.org/p/unm-board-of-regents-save-the-university-of-new-mexico-ski-team

The Daily Lobo: http://www.dailylobo.com/article/2017/04/17-unm-cuts-skiing

Ski Racing: http://www.skiracing.com/stories/new-mexico-to-discontinue-ncaa-mens-and-womens-skiing

 

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