This is a continuation of my experiences as a first time volunteer at the FIS World Cup Alpine World Cup Races held in Lake Louise. I’m a complete newbie to alpine ski racing, so thought I would capture the experience. To read about my first few days trying to figure everything out, click here.
Wednesday, December 4th, 2019
The snow continued to fall last night. We woke up to over 17 cm of fresh snow, with more on the way. Breakfast was called for 6:30 am, so another super early start. The Race Crews need as much time as possible to clear the snow before the practice race begins.
Cam and I waited in the Communications Centre until the sun came up, and then did some sweet turns off the top of the mountain. Visibility was nil, but with all the fresh tracks – who cared!
As we made our way to the base to pick-up our Timing Bags and get ready to set up, we heard over the radio that today’s practice race was cancelled.
While the majority of the Timing Crew had a play day in the fresh pow, I needed some down time. I am an introvert, and after several days of being with a lot of people non-stop, I needed to be alone. I convinced an off-duty coach driver to shuttle me back to the Lake Louise Village, where I had a glorious four hours all to myself. Aaaahhhhh.
The Course Crew are the real heroes of the race. They are out before the sun comes up, and are still on the mountain long after everyone else goes home. They rake and shovel and snow plow all day to get the course in shape. They continue to work during the race, smoothing out ruts and grooves forming in the race track. After the race, they are right back at it, raking, shoveling and grooming the track into shape.
This is back-breaking work, 90% of it done by hand and by feel. After setting up my timing guns, I would join the Course Crew at Claire’s Corner, which was run by Pat-Man. Pat is a professional fire fighter in Vancouver, and does overhead, confined space, and long-line rope rescues. He also has a company and teaches these skills to corporations. I will freely admit that I am just a wee bit scared of Pat-Man. He’s intense. He’s the undisputed leader of our position, and everyone, even the overall Course Leader, does what Pat says.
Not only did it snow all night, but big fluffy flakes continue to come down. This is great for skiing, but bad for races. The crews are giving it their all, all day long, to keep the track clean. I have to say, it seems rather sacrilegious to take perfectly good, fresh snow OFF the run, and throw it into the trees. Alas, the crazy world of ski racing.
No one is happier to see the big snow cats than the Course Crew! They work hard to pull all the snow off to the sides, and rely on the big machines to pack it down for them. It’s a huge missed opportunity if the team doesn’t get a section of snow pulled away from the track in time, and miss the power of the snow cat.
Sled Dog Volunteer Appreciation Night
We were treated to some good old fashioned western hospitality tonight at the Brewsters Barn. It is located behind the Chateau Lake Louise. Even after coming here for decades, I never knew the barn was back there. A real hidden gem in the Canadian Rockies.
We were ferried up to the Barn in big coach Brewster Buses, and were welcomed with free wine and beer. World famous Alberta Beef was BBQ’d outside, then brought in on pitch forks. Dinner was amazing with no shortage of helpings.
New members of the Sled Dog Team get initiated tonight. We are brought to the front of the stage to recite the Sled Dog pledge. This involves various promises, including something about speaking less yet saying more, and alternating with water…
The next part of the initiation is learning a line dance. If you’re from Calgary (or Texas), this is old hat. As most of our volunteers come from all over Canada and the US, it’s the first (and perhaps only!) time they will line dance.
You’re not a true Sled Dog until you learn the Achy-breaky Heart line dance with 100 other volunteers. The most important part is having a very healthy dose of “attitude!”
Belt Buckle Awards
Every year, volunteers who have made a significant contribution to the races are honoured. They are given a custom-made Sled Dog belt buckle. This year, three people were given this honour, including my roommate Mo – it only took 39 years of service! She was very surprised and honoured.
The really big draw of the night is meeting the members of the Canadian Women’s Alpine Ski Team! They are like celebrities – everyone knows their names, what events they compete in, and how their season is going so far. The volunteers are also racing fans.
Thursday, December 5th, 2019
We awoke to a clear morning, which meant minimal snow clearing was needed. Whew! However, clear skies meant cold temperatures overnight, which has it’s own set of consequences as I’m finding out.
If it’s not one thing, it’s another. The freezing temperatures have frozen the orange fence posts into the snow. These fences are here to catch the racers should they crash, and they act like the crumple zone on your car. The fences are meant to come loose when a skier hits them, slowing their fall without stopping them dead in their tracks. When the fence posts are frozen into the snow, this prevents the crumple zone from well, crumpling. This could seriously hurt the racers.
Every line of fence must be taken down. It is then re-positioned, and a new hole is drilled for each post. The fences are heavy, and must be spread perfectly, or else they won’t line up with the fences below. Lots of heave-ho is required.
The Media is Here
Even though we are still doing practice races, the media has arrived in earnest. At the base, we spot a camera crew filming and interviewing athletes as they make their way to the lifts.
At my timing station on Claire’s Corner, there is a giant boom camera that tracks the racers as they zoom past. The path of the boom is clearly marked, and everyone stays well away from the crane-like bar.
The practice race is about to start. We get the all clear and the Point of View (POV) racer comes out of the starting gate. She skies the track with a camera so the viewers get an idea of what it feels like to be here in person. Just as the POV is picking up speed, she gets a yellow flag and has to stop. A snowboarder has walked across the race course. Well, I guess that’s why you have practice races – for the crews as well as the racers.
This might seem random, but it happened at my station the very next day. I was getting ready for the race when a boarder walked out of the trees behind me. He asked if he could watch the races from my position. No, sorry – viewing areas are on the other side of the race course. This is for accredited personnel only. Oh. Well, could he walk across the course? No, the race is literally about to start, and he would have to crawl under six layers of fence line, which would then have to be double-checked by the course crew.
As is bound to happen, we had a crash on the course. One of the women took a jump slightly off course, landed wrong and crashed into the fences (good thing they were fixed!). The helicopter was flown in, and the racer was long-lined out on a stretcher within minutes. I never like to see anyone get hurt skiing, but I know it’s part of the sport. I wish her a speedy recovery.
For the professionals though, this is an everyday occurrence. Slovenian Sasha on my timing headset is muttering to himself – not to worry, she is Austrian. Plenty more of those racers. I understand his sentiment. Canada is also a small country dwarfed by it’s much larger neighbour. I take this moment to tell Sasha that my husband is (half) Austrian. Without missing a beat, Sasha replies: “I feel sorry for you.”
Despite my Sled Dog initiation last night, I won’t feel like a ‘real’ sled dog until I have some swag. Everyone is lined up by 5:00 pm to receive their Descente brand ski pants. I am given a Medium, which I know is way too big without even opening the bag. I need a size Small. It’s time to find a trading partner!
Cam has a size Small, but he’s hoping to trade his pants for one of the big blue ski jackets the Sled Dogs received last year. Everyone is sporting them, and they look amazing. Cam took last year off because he was moving, so missed out on this great jacket.
By chance, I run into Barb Spear on the stairwell. She started the Lake Louise Ski Friends over 40 years ago, and is a big supporter and volunteer at the World Cup races. She is also friends with my in-laws. Barb’s ski pants are a size Small, but she needs a Medium for her son. Bingo! The deal is done. The next few days are filled with chatter about who is trading for what.
Thanks for joining me on my World Cup Ski Racing volunteering adventures. I hope you’re enjoying all the behind the scenes stuff required to get these races produced. There’s still more! Click to read about my final days and the races in Part III.