It seems that the World Cup races have made their last call in Lake Louise

As the last woman walked out the door and began to run down the frozen white runway, the stunning beauty of Lake Louise became undeniable.

Against the backdrop of a royal blue sky and dark green forest, the ski racer raced down the hill to become minuscule as she was swallowed up by the menacing gray of the Rocky Mountains waiting patiently below.

It was just one of tens of thousands of thrill rides that have taken place at this location throughout its long history with the Alpine Ski World Cup.

The sadness lies in the possibility that it may very well have been the last.

Since it first arrived in the 1980s, the World Cup has always celebrated the beginning of winter in Lake Louise. Snow for high-speed racing is guaranteed, and while temperatures are often brutally freezing, the atmosphere in Banff National Park is unparalleled.

“It’s a giant gathering of the world’s ski racing family,” said 1992 Olympic downhill champion Kerrin Lee-Gartner, who not only competed at Lake Louise but was a CBC television commentator on the races here for 25 seasons.

“From the riders to the sponsors, the families and the volunteers, past and present, we all had a week together united in our passion for the sport,” he said.

CLOCK | Sofia Goggia wins downhill gold:

Sofia Goggia wins the gold medal in the Downhill World Cup

Sofia Goggia of Italy finished with a time of 1:28.96 to place first in the women’s downhill competition during the FIS Alpine World Cup stop in Lake Louise, Alta.

The reality is that financial concerns have made the Lake Louise World Cup races, the only stop in North America for women sprinters, too expensive to operate. Those in the know say the business model doesn’t work these days and it all comes down to dollars and cents.

It is nobody’s fault. It’s just the way of the world.

There will be women’s technical races, two giant slaloms, next year at Mont Tremblant, Que., bringing the World Cup back to Canada, but the Lake Louise tradition, in all likelihood, faces interruption or an abrupt end.

And that’s a shame.

There is an experience in descending this mountain that is equivalent to the last trip in the vast and wild expanse of the frontier. It’s the thrill of the moment, one I’ve been lucky enough to experience over 15 years of calling races here.

After the show, I’d sneak in a couple of races before the sun went down. I loved the open track next to the race track that went from top to bottom.

The view for skiers coming down the mountain. (fake images)
Scott Russell loves skiing at Lake Louise. (Presented by Scott Russell)

On my way down, I would inevitably look to the horizon and sing the Gordon Lightfoot song. Canadian Railway Trilogy to myself: “There was a time in this beautiful land when the railway did not work. When the wild and majestic mountains stood alone against the sun.”

Skiing in Lake Louise was, in my opinion, the best thing to do in Canada.

“Too bad it’s like that,” said Olympian Larisa Yurkiw, a native of Owen Sound, Ontario, who came so close to a podium finish here on the downhill.

“Lake Louise was our home race, but the truth is that all nations felt at home. That’s the Canadian effect.”

It is true.

Austrians, Swiss, Italians, Americans and athletes from many nations who came to Alberta loved it. They all stayed together at Chateau Lake Louise and some played hockey on the natural ice rink in the shadow of Victoria Glacier.

CLOCK | Gagnon of Canada scores a top 10 finish:

Gagnon finishes in top 10 at Lake Louise Super-G

Marie-Michèle Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., finished in eighth place Sunday in the Super G race at the Lake Louise World Cup.

They benefited from the hundreds of volunteers known as the “Sled Dogs,” who tirelessly built and groomed the course through howling winds and endless snowfall.

Ski superstars went to sleep at night knowing that, almost without fail, they would be racing the next day.

“He was kind to me. He taught me lessons about the competition. He showed me love through volunteers, fans and supporters. He held my hand throughout my ski racing journey,” said Emily Brydon of Fernie, BC, who ran twice to the podium in the downhill of Lake Louise.

“As Canadians, we rarely get to do what we love in front of the people and country we love – Lake Louise gave us that opportunity. I will never forget standing at the starting gate looking out over the majestic and magical valley, taking a moment before kicking off the door and put it all on the line. It always forced me to pause and be thankful.”

The first Canadian woman to medal in a World Cup ski race at Lake Louise is Kelly VanderBeek, who took bronze in the Super G in 2006. Since then, she has spent her time touring the mountain as an analyst for CBC. , taking beautiful photos to capture memories, as well as conducting thoughtful interviews with runners.

Kelly Vanderbeek of Canada flies down the Lake Louise course in 2009. (fake images)

Comfort zone

“Lake Louise played an important role in my history as an athlete, however, it also holds my future,” Kelly said as we chatted this past weekend. “This place goes beyond scores and statistics and is now part of the fabric that binds my family together. Lake Louise is not a mountain, it is a community with a collective love of skiing that will inevitably evolve.”

Marie-Michele Gagnon is the senior member of the Canadian alpine team. On Sunday, the 33-year-old took what is undoubtedly her last competitive trip around the track in the Super G and finished a season-best eighth.

In December 2017, Gagnon was seriously injured in a training accident in Lake Louise and missed the following year’s Olympics. But he has returned to form and has grown from the lessons this formidable mountain has taught him.

“I think everyone, including the athletes and the volunteers, is sad that this race is over,” Gagnon said via direct message before relegation. “It’s been a classic through the years and throughout my 15-year World Cup career. I’ve always felt right at home.”

Home is important to ski racers. Familiarity and predictability are paramount in a capricious endeavor where much is put at risk. If nothing else, Lake Louise and its dependability became something of a comfort zone for those who came together to face its magnificent challenges.

“Can I go rogue here for a second?” my analyst partner and former World Cup star Brian Stemmle asked as we wrapped up the call for Super G on Sunday. “I want to thank everyone involved with Lake Louise for being so great. I want to thank the Sled Dogs, the Net Monkey’s, the field workers and the people who run the chairlifts…”

Stemmle went on to express her gratitude to so many people that we almost ran out of time, and got quite emotional in the process.

I can understand why. We may have seen the end of an era in a gem of the Canadian West.

Over the years, Lake Louise has become the rock of the Ski World Cup and, in a northern nation, winter can always be counted on to kick off without fail on this magnificent playing field.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *