CBC Sports

Amateur sportsField of Play: Lake Louise, the start of winter

Posted: Thursday, November 22, 2012 | 07:19 AM

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Jan Hudec, seen competing in 2011 at Lake Louise, is one of only three Canadians to win a World Cup race on the mountain. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press) Jan Hudec, seen competing in 2011 at Lake Louise, is one of only three Canadians to win a World Cup race on the mountain. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

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The way I see it every year winter officially begins in our own backyard at Lake Louise, the site of the return of championship alpine skiing to be broadcast of CBC Sports. There is the majesty of the Rocky Mountains to consider and the endless vistas that greet you.

The way I see it every year winter officially begins in our own backyard at Lake Louise. There is the majesty of the Rocky Mountains to consider and the endless vistas that greet you.

There is the fact that you can bank on snow and a ski race in spite of the climatic vagaries that might prevail.

That's thanks to the Sled Dogs, the hundreds of volunteers who put in thousands of hours over three to four weeks making and hauling the white stuff to get it just right.

They live by a credo and it's found on the home page of their web site. 

"We are modeled on the Siberian Husky," they claim. "A breed known for its loyalty, intelligence, speed, endurance and its preference for the outdoors and also for its ability to haul a lot of stuff."

The Sled Dogs have been the all-too unsung supporting cast at Lake Louise since the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary when they were the technical crew for the women's alpine races. High winds and higher temperatures created huge challenges and the crews worked around the clock to get the races off.

My friend, the Olympic champion, and our expert analyst for alpine skiing, Kerrin Lee Gartner, is fully aware that the Sled Dogs are key to the legend that Lake Louise has fashioned over the years.

"Each year, no matter what Mother Nature throws at the volunteers, the traditional opening downhill of the season is ready to go," she concludes. "The Chateau Lake Louise is the only venue where the whole tour stays together under one roof. So the ski circuit is reunited and basically celebrates the winter starting."

Thousands of hours are invested and on any given day more than 200 of the Sled Dogs scour the mountain in order to make the races a foregone conclusion.

Lake Louise, you must understand, is a Canadian sporting treasure that too many of us take for granted.

People from all over the world make pilgrimages here. The European racers love it because they go to sleep at night knowing they are going racing the next day, almost without fail.
The World Cup first came here in 1980. Since then 77 races have been scheduled and only two have failed to get off the ground. That wasn't because of a lack of snow, but instead because there was too much of it, or because the winds were too high.

It is the site of Canada's highest profile ski race.  While Whistler gets the glory, it is Lake Louise that delivers in perpetuity.

This is also the only spot where a Canadian ski racer, and there are many who are accomplished, have a chance to win on home soil. Over the years only three have won here, John Kucera, Jan Hudec and Manny Osborne-Paradis. 

A mere ten Canucks, men and women, have stood on the podium at Lake Louise in the more than 30 years of racing here.

The lesson being that Lake Louise is rarified air for all ski racers.  It is the first downhill course outside of Europe to be invited to join the prestigious "Club of Five" which includes the likes of Kitzbuehel and Wengen.

"It really is a remarkable place to race," says Kerrin Lee Gartner. "The skiing is excellent, the Rocky Mountains are stunning and the view is endless.  It is still one of my very favourite places to stand in the start gate but now as a commentator."

Lake Louise is old reliable, you see.

It's the rock of ages.

And in a Northern nation you can count on winter beginning right here on this magnificent field of play.

Suffice it to say, our recurring alpine adventure is guaranteed to start at Lake Louise.

What's on Sports Weekend

This Sports Weekend sees the return of Championship Alpine Skiing on CBC. We'll present the women's Giant Slalom from Aspen as well as the men's downhill from Lake Louise on Saturday beginning at Noon ET.

In addition, the sixth stop on the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating is NHK Japan and the men's field includes world championship contenders Daisuke Takahashi, Javier Fernandez and Yuzuru Hanyu.

Sunday, alpine skiing returns with the men's Super G at Lake Louise and the figure skating Pairs competition from NHK Japan.

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