Roni Remme, Lake Louise FIS World Cup.
By Nick Hamilton photography by Malcolm Carmichael
It’s a well-known fact that the Escarpment ski hills have produced some of Canada’s best ski racers. We have a vibrant community for ski racing and an excellent mix of development programs for our kids all across the Escarpment. Our ski programming is some of the best available in Canada. The first goal is to have fun, to be sure, but that can come in many different forms including creating lifelong friendships built around skiing and some friendly competition along the way. This is true of racers both young and old and creates a bond among all racers and the infrastructure that supports them (family ski clubs and the broader community).
Indeed, the ceiling is very high for any ski racer from this area. So many families from the Escarpment have walked the path to support their kids to achieve their very best results in the sport. This can be an arduous road with complex and difficult decision points around balancing school and time on the hill, extensive travel, distance from family, coaching, sponsorship and fundraising. Despite this, Ontario racers and their families have fared exceptionally well and continue to do so. That said, if you speak with any family of an emerging ski racer—they cannot do it alone, they need help. The sport just does not get the attention and financial resources here in Canada that you might expect. In terms of winter sports, hockey tends to rule the roost. We also don’t have the off season training facilities like they do in the European Alps with more prominent glacier ski training centers. So, if you progress all the way to the World Cup (which many Escarpment racers have done) there are many disadvantages to being a ski racer from Canada. The Austrians and Swiss have basically an army of athletes and infrastructure as well as robust funding. Canada continues to be an underdog nation with the talent to challenge the very best. How can we improve these odds?
Jeffrey Read, Lake Louise FIS World Cup.
If you look back and consider Canada’s ski racing history, interestingly, more often than not we have seen exceptional performances from our athletes despite the odds being stacked against them. This means they were probably underfunded and had to compensate for a whole host of factors in addition to fighting for each and every result. If you think about it, this is a testament to the talent and determination of Canadian ski racers—in one sense this is fantastic, and on another level, unacceptable.
Clearly, as a community, we can do more to help our racers and support them on this quest. I feel these endeavours need to be rekindled and the community needs to rediscover its rightful place in finding ways to support our athletes.
This past November, I was pleased to organize a grassroots effort alongside Crazy Canuck Ken Read and my neighbor and fellow Peaks member, Angus Crawford. Both have two kids each on the National Team and their respective families have deep roots in the sport. In our discussions, I learned that the Canadian Men’s Alpine Ski Team was underfunded by about $250,000 heading into this year’s World Cup season. Among the missing pieces was a pre-Olympic camp before the team headed to compete in Beijing. As a fan of the sport, I viewed this as unacceptable. As a result, a campaign entitled “The Path to The Podium” was born. This two-part fundraising series hosted a national Zoom call to have an open discussion and tackle some of the known challenges and help other families in the sport. Secondly, we hosted a VIP dinner event for 100 raving fans at the new Georgian Peaks lodge. Again, here we fostered open dialogue from some of Canada’s best racers from the past (Todd Brooker, Ken Read, Liisa Savijarvi and Brian Stemmle) on what it takes to be your very best.
Jack Crawford, Lake Louise FIS World Cup.
I have to say I was very encouraged by the community’s response to these events but not at all surprised—families, ski clubs, vendors, fans, foundations and associations—all rallied around this cause. At the time of writing this, we have committed donations for this specific cause of over $100,000, with as much as $65,000 on the horizon. So, I am happy to report we have taken a big bite out of the pressing problem, but we have not solved the longer-term issue that we need more dollars for the sport and for our teams.
In hosting these events I was reminded (despite all the disruption that COVID has created these past two years) that it very much does take a village to raise a ski racer. Let’s not forget (on the other side of many lockdowns) what the power of a community can accomplish and just how good it can feel. Ski racing families should never feel afraid to ask for help and as a community we need to be there.
Jack Crawford, Lake Louise FIS World Cup.
It’s my hope that these recent “Path to the Podium” events will inspire other communities across the country to replicate this winning formula. The appetite is definitely there among fans of ski racing to celebrate Canada’s past success but more importantly set the stage for a stronger future for our racers. Offering up this model to lend support to our teams might also be especially useful given the social disruption caused by the pandemic. We need to find ways to come together once more around the things we value.
So, as our Canadian Team racers step into the start gate this season, let’s allow them to simply think about going fast— knowing that they have a strong community behind them. Who’s with me?
By joining Alpine Canada as a donor, you can take part in their Olympic and Paralympic journey and have a stake in Canadian ski racing excellence. Please visit alpinecanada.org/donate/ways-to-give— the donation link relating to these events will remain live throughout the winter.
Nick Hamilton is a ski racing fan and President, The Georgian Peaks Club. E