BOW VALLEY – Five Bow Valley athletes were named to a smaller 2020-21 Canadian Alpine Ski Team (CAST), which has started off its season playing an international game of catch-up due to circumstances.
Canmore’s Kris Mahler and Banff’s Zach Belczyk were named to the ski cross team, and Canmorites Erik Read, Trevor Philp and Jeffrey Read were selected to the alpine squad by Alpine Canada, which celebrates its centennial year in 2020.
Anticipation is high for racing to start this fall, which will be the first of three consecutive seasons where CAST athletes will vye for spots at the world championships (2020-21 and 2022-23), and the Winter Olympic Games (2021-22).
“Really, the [2020-21] team is about who are the athletes who are basically there to perform on the world stage,” said Mark Tilston, the men’s alpine team’s new coach.
Along with the five local racers, 20 other athletes were selected to the national teams for alpine and Para-alpine, and 16 for ski cross.
Last season, Alpine Canada selected 58 total athletes on its national teams.
“We’re fielding a slightly smaller world cup team this year, which is full of very talented athletes, so we’re really excited about our prospects,” said newly appointed high-performance director Phil McNichol.
In alpine, Erik, the older of the Read brothers, earned a seventh-place world cup finish in giant slalom last season in Austria. Erik competed at the 2018 Winter Olympics with teammate Philp, who also had a career best seventh-place world cup finish in giant slalom last season in Beaver Creek.
Jeffrey Read was named to CAST for a fourth consecutive season. Last season, the younger Read had five first place finishes on the Nor-Am cup, plus two world cup best 33rd place finishes in downhill and super-G.
In ski cross, Belczyk earned a career-best 10th place finish last season on the world cup circuit.
One athlete Canada is excited for this season is Mahler, who ended last season as the sixth-ranked ski cross racer in the world.
Mahler earned two world cup podiums – gold and silver – in a remarkable comeback season that catapulted the Canmorite back into contention after two years off due to two surgeries from three major injuries. The forced time off motivated Mahler in his return.
“When you’re getting cut open or recovering and you’re not doing what you love, it’s tough, but it gave me some time away in the sport and I re-evaluated what I was doing and where I wanted to be – working towards a world cup podium. And now, I’m working towards an Olympic podium,” Mahler said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, last season was cut short for all racers. As virus restrictions are still in place, what that means for Canadian athletes is they haven't been training as they normally would at this time of year and are playing catch-up with the world’s ski giants.
For Mahler and his recovery process, he missed out on some season-end races and training, but his mentality is used to unplanned circumstances.
“COVID has brought some interesting dynamics to our sport and around the world,” he said. “But again, I think you just have to adapt and our team is doing that pretty well.”
McNichol said the hope is to get the team to Europe for training by late-July or August after missing out on a spring training camp.
“Right now, in terms of the major ski countries … Canada is the only country that’s currently not on snow training because the restrictions in Canada are quite high, plus our opportunities to ski are extremely limited in June and into July,” he said.
However, despite the challenges, it can also be motivating, said Tilston.
“The resilience and attitude of the athletes is very professional and we’re basically moving to a stage now where we’re saying, ‘OK, how are we going to make up the gap?’ And that’s always exciting to be trying to chase the best in the world,” he said.
In addition to the locals, other athletes on the 2020-21 CAST include:
Cameron Alexander, Jack Crawford, Marie-Michèle Gagnon, Valérie Grenier, Erin Mielzynski, Ali Nullmeyer, Manuel Osborne-Paradis, Roni Remme, Brodie Seger, Amelia Smart, Laurence St-Germain, and Broderick Thompson for alpine.
Alana Ramsay, Alexis Guimond, Brian Rowland, Frédérique Turgeon, Kurt Oatway, Mac Marcoux and guide Tristan Rodgers, Michaela Gosselin, and Mollie Jepsen for Para-alpine.
Zoe Chore, Carson Cook, Chris Del Bosco, Kevin Drury, Tiana Gairns, Courtney Hoffos, Reece Howden, Brady Leman, Abby McEwen, Brittany Phelan, Gavin Rowell, India Sherret, Hannah Schmidt, Jared Schmidt, Antoinette Tansley, and Marielle Thompson for ski cross.
Canmore alpine racer Britt Richardson was also included in Alpine Canada's new NextGen Program, which recognizes an upcoming athlete's performance and potential as an alpine ski racer.