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SkiingThe legend of Lake Louise

Posted: Thursday, November 24, 2011 | 10:46 PM

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John Kucera of Canada walks off the mountain at Lake Louise, Alta., on Wednesday. Though heavy snowfall cancelled downhill training that day, alpine skiers from around the world are lapping up the plethora of white stuff in the Rocky Mountains in November. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press) John Kucera of Canada walks off the mountain at Lake Louise, Alta., on Wednesday. Though heavy snowfall cancelled downhill training that day, alpine skiers from around the world are lapping up the plethora of white stuff in the Rocky Mountains in November. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

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Another alpine season is underway and there is little snow in Europe.

Near the Arctic Circle at Levi, Finland, the slalom has been cancelled. Magnificent Wengen is bare ... not a flake. Glorious Val d'Isere is struggling as well. Even in Kitzbuhel they are worried.

Not so Lake Louise, Alta.

Another alpine season is underway and there is little snow in Europe.

Near the Arctic Circle at Levi, Finland, the slalom has been cancelled. Magnificent Wengen is bare ... not a flake. Glorious Val d'Isere is struggling as well. Even in Kitzbuhel they are worried.

Not so Lake Louise, Alta.

Here, deep in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, two hours to the west of Calgary, there is an abundance of the white stuff. You can bet your bottom dollar that this place will live up to its reputation and there will be racing on the opening weekend of the speed campaign. That's because, as everyone is starting to figure out, winter officially starts right here.

"They are always ready for us at Lake Louise," says Austrian veteran Klaus Kroell. "Here there is always a race."

And history bears him out. Since the World Cup first came to Lake Louise in the early 1980s, only two of the 72 races intended to be run at this mountain have failed to get out of the start gate. And that wasn't because of a lack of snow. Rather freak snowstorms and high winds made it impossible to safely get on track.

"We're insured for cancellation with Lloyd's of London," says John Cassels the race chairman at Lake Louise. "All the European resorts want our rates because we pay less than anyone else. We hardly ever miss."

Only Canadian stop

And that's a good thing in a sport that's been hampered by poor snow conditions over the last number of years in the European heartland. It has served to erase the reluctance that the Swiss and Austrian skiers, for instance, have shown in the past to begin their season on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Now, all you hear is praise for the singular Canadian stop on the circuit and there's even the shadow of a hint that more racing should be built into the North American end of the World Cup schedule.

"I ski four or five times more races in Europe than I do in North America but a lot of my success comes at places like Lake Louise," says Aksel Lund Svindal, the two-time overall World Cup champion from Norway. "I won my first race at Lake Louise at the start of a season. Here it's like being with family. We're all together to start off on the right foot."

Course workers spent a 24-hour stretch grooming the course in advance of the first training run on Thursday. They were faced with a 40-centimetre snowfall from the previous day. It's not an unusual occurrence at Lake Louise as late November often delivers extreme cold and heavy precipitation in these parts.

For the eager racers from all over the globe that's more than acceptable. In fact, it's welcome news.

Not the 'gnarliest' track, but lots of snow 

"It's not the gnarliest track in the world," admits World Cup giant slalom champion Ted Ligety of the United States. "But there's always snow at Lake Louise and it's good to know the season will get out of the gate quickly."

This is a sentiment that's echoed over and over again by the racers. Far from frowning on the relative ease of the course or the fact that it's fairly remote from a major population base or even the frigid headwinds that may slow their progress, everyone seems comforted by the knowledge that Lake Louise is regarded as being an old reliable friend ... something to count on.

"It's only fitting that we should begin at Lake Louise," reckons the overall World Cup champion Ivica Kostelic of Croatia. "Here it's always a go."

That's the legend of this jewel of the Rockies.

At Lake Louise, almost magically, winter arrives right on time and without fail.

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