LAKE LOUISE – You know it's November in Lake Louise when snow flurries blanket mountains and trees with the white stuff; a flood of eager skiers rush the hill to test out the first powder of the season and dedicated crews prepare diligently to host the world's fastest skiers.
Following "a long year off" of the Lake Louise hill, the Audi FIS Ski World Cup returns to the Canadian Rockies for an important first step toward the Beijing Winter Games in a few months.
"We're back racing," said Brian Lynam, race chair of the Lake Louise Audi FIS Ski World Cup organizing committee.
Front and centre are the speed events that'll push speeds at 120 kilometres per hour at the Lake Louise Ski Resort. The men's downhill starts are on Nov. 26 and 27, followed by super-G on Nov. 28. The women's downhill starts are on Dec. 3-4, followed by super-G on Dec. 5.
The entire event is free for spectators to visit the hill and watch.
"This is our first opportunity to showcase the first speed event of the year and we want to lead by example and make sure we have a great race series for the teams to go off to the next event," said Lynam.
An extra men's downhill start was added to Lake Louise this season. It'll be beneficial for Canada's skiers who are familiar with the run.
Just a few weeks out, Lynam's snow report at Lake Louise is snow making at the Lake Louise Ski Resort is on point.
"We're very fortunate during this week we have excellent temperatures during the day and at night so that snow making can continue 24/7, which is important," Lynam said.
Eighteen nations for men and 17 for women are signed up to compete. In order to enter Canada, all athletes must be fully vaccinated. The Lake Louise faithful can expect the big guns from prominent ski countries such as Austria, Germany and Switzerland to be there.
But there should be more of an interested look at the Canadians, who made a habit of turning heads last season with an aggressive, pushing-the-pace style.
With impressive results in 2020, a few of the fastest Canadians on skis in Jack Crawford, Brodie Seger and Canmore's Jeff Read, who said he's "itching to get going", are wanting to show they've truly arrived on the scene and aren't there just for show.
"It's one of those things; the home crowd, the home track – anything can happen," said Read, 24. "It's happened before in the past with our coach, John Kucera, he won [super-G] as an underdog [in 2006] and we're striving for that same explosive result."
Describing the Lake Louise run as "the highest average speed track" on the world cup circuit, Read said it's one of the most intense and physical courses.
"It's pretty full-on the whole way and wide open, a ripper, so it's a lot of fun," he said. "Everyone usually labels it as an easy start to the season just to kind of get your skiing legs back and get back into the swing of things in the world cup, but you gotta be on your game because it can definitely eat you up if you're not ready to sort of push with the track and respect it."
That's no sweat, though, for home field advantage.
"It's not a track any of us [Canadians] have to take it easy on because we're so familiar with it," said Read. "We can start pushing that pace right away and hopefully be able to find that edge to be competitive with the top [group]."
As a farewell to the sport, three-time world cup winner and Canadian Manuel Osborne-Paradis, 37, is doing his retirement run in Lake Louise on Saturday (Nov. 27) in the downhill.
Due to COVID, public events such as the bib pick are off the event list this year and all visiting athletes are required to complete a PCR test to enter the Lake Louise "red bubble."
The world cup committee is being cautious about the risks.
"We've really worked hard to make sure we've got COVID protocols in place for the teams ... and then sort of the bigger picture, making it safe for our volunteers, the public, that's going to be what we're watching," said Lynam.