SWITZERLAND – Canmore’s Erik Read can hardly believe that he’s the old guy on Team Canada now, but with age comes experience and he’s hoping to take that to the bank during the toughest stretch of the season.
The big events of the alpine ski world cup are here, and with the world championships right around the corner, the 31-year-old tech specialist is starting to peak at just the right time.
In Adelboden, Switzerland, Read finished a season best 14th in slalom and followed up with 15th in giant slalom (GS) on Jan. 7-8. A week later he finished 22nd in slalom in Wengen, Switzerland.
“I’m definitely aiming for higher [results in GS],” said Read, a two-time Olympian. “I think I would be really happy with top-10 level results. In slalom, having a 14th was a good step in the right direction.”
In a “season of extremes so far” with a constant change in course conditions from hill to hill such as icy or wet spring-like snow, the veteran believes his best stuff is still to come.
“It’s knowing I can ski and not be on my A-game or if I make a couple mistakes, and still be in the top-30,” said Read. “Taking confidence from that if I do push and things come together then I can really be deep in there and fighting for PBs.”
Having been racing on the world cup circuit since 2011, Read knows the European courses well enough to be able to be competitive skiing at any point. He’s also aware that the window for consistency fighting for top 10s is potentially closing in on him.
It’s mainly due to the physical toll GS dishes out on skiers, which pounds on the body and knees more than other races. In the top-30, there are only five skiers consistently finishing in there who are older than Read.
“I don’t know when that happened all of the sudden,” he said with a laugh. “There’s a bunch of other guys the same age and actually the ‘92 birth year has always been the strongest in GS; racer after racer we’re the most to qualify.”
Since 2016, Read has been one of the most consistent top-30 racers on the circuit to the point where it’s odd if Read finishes outside the top-30 – even the top 20. However, he knows fighting for points with the top racers isn’t guaranteed forever.
“I really have to take those opportunities where I can right now,” he said.
The major event of the ski season is the alpine world ski championships, taking place Feb. 6-19 in Courchevel Meribel, France.
It is Read’s fifth world championship, and, with age, the Canadian enters it with maturity.
Because of all the bells and whistles, many can easily get swept up in the magnitude of the event – just ask Read what happened two years ago.
“At the last world champs [in 2021], I put too much pressure on myself and then also didn’t manage the days very well,” said Read.
By the time the giant slalom race came around, which is Read’s specialty, it was the Canuck’s fifth day on the snow and the demanding ski schedule had caught up to him. He DNF’d on his first run.
“In any other normal circumstance, I wouldn’t do that, but I kind of just got caught up in the big event mentality where you’re going day-by-day and taking it all in,” said Read.
However, the GS specialist is looking to be more methodical and smart about planning for the important week.
“Rest is a weapon and I know my best skiing is when I have that little extra pep in my step,” he said.
This week the world cup stops at the famous Kitzbuehel event in Austria, a favourite for racers who are welcomed by tens of thousands of cheering spectators at the finish line.