BY: Gordie Bowles PHOTOGRAPHY: Pentaphoto
Notable injuries and retirements, new faces and trends, questions and drama headline a few storylines to follow entering the 50th year of FIS World Cup racing.
Dustin Cook came barreling into the national mainstream consciousness with a stellar 2015 season, including a silver medal at the World Alpine Championships in February in Vail, Colorado, with a near-perfect run. The 25-year-old from Lac-Sainte-Marie, Que., followed up with a bronze medal at Kvitfjell, Norway, quickly dispelling the one-hit wonder notion. Soon after came his first World Cup win in Meribel, France, giving Cook a rightful spot on the Canadian Cowboys roster and making him a hot commodity entering the 2015-16 season.
CANADIAN, SWISS RETURNS
A formidable group of recovering skiers from the Swiss and Canadian teams are returning to competition at some point in the 2015-16 season. Canadians Erik Guay (knee) and Jan Hudec (knee) were back on snow in the late summer and primed for a return to the spotlight at the season opener in Lake Louise, Alberta, in November. Swiss speed skiers Patrick Kueng (knee), Beat Feuz (achilles tendon) and Mauro Caviezel (leg) were injured in the offseason, with all three unlikely to return before Lake Louise or Beaver Creek, Colorado.
OLDIES BUT GOODIES, PART 1
Who you callin’ old? Long regarded as a sport that requires “maturing,” especially in the men’s speed disciplines, the age of the best technical skiers now appears to be increasing, nearly matching the downhillers. The average age of the top-ranked slalom and giant slalom male skiers from 2015-16 was 29, compared to 28 for downhill and super-G.
COACH MUSICAL CHAIRS
With the departure of Paul “PK” Kristofic, a longtime coach and later athletic director for Alpine Canada, to the U.S. Ski Team, and the retirement of longtime Canadian women’s World Cup coach Jim Pollock, the Canadian roster has taken a new European flavour. Austrian Roland Pfeifer and Italians Valerio Ghirardi and Paolo De Florian join the Canadian team. Pfeifer, who coached Mikaela Shiffrin on the U.S. team last year, and Ghirardi, Tina Maze’s former coach, have an impressive pedigree, now tasked with lighting a spark under Erin Mielzynski and Marie-Michèle Gagnon as well as moving along a slate of promising younger athletes such as Candace Crawford and Mikaela Tommy.
HOME SWEET HIRSCHER
Home is where the training is. Marcel Hirscher, the best ski racer on the planet, opted to avoid the Southern Hemisphere for his offseason training, staying close to home on the Moeltaller Glacier, despite a hot summer in Austria. The balance of the summer was not exactly focussed on training for his potential fifth crystal globe, but as of mid-August he was re-focussed, entering what he called “the dirt-pig-badass phase” of training.
LEGEND ON THE FENCE
With Benni Raich’s 90 World Cup medals (34 wins) off the table as he announced his retirement in September, the next big question mark is Bode Miller, who is still on the fence for the 2016 season. Latest reports have Miller in a likely position to return, but then again the most decorated U.S. Olympic skier of all time with six medals likes to keep everyone guessing.
With a few suitcases full of Nor-Am hardware in tow, a youthful crop of Canucks has been making its move toward a steady World Cup campaign. Phil Brown (Craigleith Ski Club), Trevor Philp (Banff Alpine Racers), Ford Swette (Whistler Mountain Ski Club), Tyler Werry (Fernie Alpine Ski Team) and Broderick Thomsen (Whistler Mountain Ski Club) are all rising. Who will get the tap on the shoulder and which ones will be ready?