If Erik Guay has to sacrifice a ski season to make it to the next Winter Olympics, he says this is the winter to do it.

No Olympics or world alpine championship on the schedule for 2012 opened a window for Guay to address chronic and crippling back pain caused by a herniated disc.

The reigning world champion in men's downhill took a two-month break after last season and stayed away from heavy weights when he resumed training.

Instead of bulking up, Guay focused on building strength and stamina along his spine

An unintended consequence of that program was losing 20 pounds. Guay is a lean 185 pounds and noticeably thinner through his face.

It remains to be seen how dropping muscle mass will affect Guay's performance in a gravity sport.

"For sure it is a momentum sport and 20 pounds translates to a lot more mass going down the hill," Guay said Wednesday. "I'll have to wait and see how it pans out.

"Part of the plan wasn't to lose weight specifically, but it was to stay out of the heavy weight racks and try not to do a lot of heavy mass on my back.

"I've lost a lot of muscle mass, but my back is feeling better. I think that I've made the first small step in the right direction, but it's going to be a long road ahead."

The 30-year-old from Mont-Tremblant, Que., is Canada's premiere ski racer with 15 career World Cup podiums, second all-time behind Steve Podborski's 20.

Despite his troublesome back, Guay won the overall World Cup super-G title in 2010 in addition to the world downhill championship.

Given his changed physique and reduced time on snow in the off-season, Guay has tempered his expectations for the season and particularly for the Lake Louise Winterstart World Cup this weekend. The season-opening downhill is Saturday followed by Sunday's super-G.

Guay and the rest of the Canadian men's team spent Wednesday free skiing the mountain. The first of three scheduled training runs was cancelled because of a major snowfall overnight.

Lake Louise Ski Resort reported 30 centimetres fell in a 24-hour period. Snowfall was expected to taper off by evening and crews were to work overnight in an effort to get the mountain ready for Thursday's training session.

Ten Canadians are participating in training runs. They are Guay, Calgary's Jan Hudec and John Kucera, Kelby Halbert of Bradford, Ont., Louis-Pierre Helie of Berthierville, Que., Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., Ottawa's Ryan Semple, Dustin Cook of Lac Sainte Marie, Que., and Robbie Dixon and Conrad Pretty of Whistler, B.C. As many as nine will race this weekend.

'Slow starter'

Guay is a self-described "slow-starter" and when it comes to Lake Louise, he's even more understated.

He won his first World Cup medal there, a silver in men's downhill in 2003. But Guay has mixed feelings about the lone Canadian stop on the men's speed circuit.

"Typically as a team we do really well at Lake Louise," Guay said. "I can't say I do well [here] because I typically don't, although I had my first World Cup [podium] ever here.

"It's a great place to start because you're at home and your friends and family are there but it's also a tough place to start because you have that extra pressure and stress of performing in front of the home crowd. And it's the first race of the year so you don't really know how you are going to do.

"So it's kind of a love-hate relationship for me at Lake Louise."

Guay was fifth in both downhill and super-G at the 2010 Winter Olympics. In order to compete in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, he knew he had to do something about his back.

"Honestly, I didn't know if I was going to be able to make it to 2014 with the way my back was going, so I thought it was a good time to take a step back, try to deal with my back problems and try and get myself healthy for the long term," Guay said.

Canadian men's coach Paul Kristofic agrees with Guay's strategy after watching how much therapy and warmup the athlete required just to get through last season.

"Very uncomfortable for him," Kristofic said. "He didn't race last year all of January pretty much. He skipped a month of racing before the world championships just to try to sort this out."

As for his lighter frame, Guay points out that American skier Darren Ralves was no heavyweight, yet won a world title in super-G and several World Cup medals.

"There's all sorts of shapes and sizes out there and lots of different guys win races," Kristofic agreed. "The challenge when you don't have as much mass is sometimes in the gliding components. You have to be a little more precise because if you make mistakes you lose momentum quicker.

"I will say Erik moves really well on his skis right now, the way he's built."