To the ski community of Thunder Bay…
To the ski community of Thunder Bay:
Thank you for hosting one of the greatest ski racing events of our time, the U16 Canadian National Alpine Ski Championships 2017
It started with a bid. A seventy six page document that was submitted by the local organizing committee led by a man (Dave Bradley) who has since reached royalty status both within the Thunder Bay city limits but also far beyond. With the last major national alpine competition being held in 1949 some may have said that the odds were stacked against them. But, as we are often taught as young athletes, work hard and you will be rewarded. It wasn’t long after the submission that the buzz began… Some aspects were accurate, some perhaps for the ski gods, but one thing was absolutely certain – these folks really, really wanted this event and nobody was going to stand in their way.
From there, as they say, the rest was history. A fiercely passionate and experienced core of individuals proceeded to prepare to host the first ever U16 Canadian National Alpine ski championships with one goal in mind: To make it the standard for years to come.
The standard they did. And with it came a host of story lines that will long be remembered well after the final flakes of snow disappear into the soil this spring. Backed by a community that has long been entrenched in ski racing folk lore with no greater example than Crazy Canuck Dave Irwin, who learned how to ski at his father’s ski hill at the time, Loch Lomond, the site of this year’s championships! Well 45 years later, the light shines bright with local kids Aaron Puskas and Sophie Robinson waving the flag high and both answered the call time and time again this past week under pressure cooker situations. Beneath the lights on Friday night with the hometown crowd looking on and holding their breath at the same time Puskas delivered with an epic result capturing a Silver medal in the Slalom. His parents, both orthopaedic surgeons and his father a Canadian armed forces medical doctor who has completed seven oversees tours was manning the family tuning/cooking trailer some 50 meters from the finish line took the performance in stride saying, “I just told him to go for it and have fun“. It’s the advice that as a former coach I could only dream a parent would say to their child at that kind of a moment.
Of course, with every great event lies an amazing support system. Cue the Loch ownership group and Jason Gerry and Grant Brodeur. It’s the behind the scenes “stuff” that is often taken for granted but undoubtedly has monumental importance in ensuring an event of this magnitude runs smoothly. Just ask some of the parents from Alberta who after the night slalom graciously offered to help drag the dual slalom starting gate from the bottom to the top which mission finally concluded well after 2am on Saturday morning. One lucky parent even experienced the always inclusive nature of the hill operations and enjoyed some of the show in the actual snow cat! Speaking of Alberta, how about Cassidy Gray, from the Panorama Ski Club, who after crashing in the slalom run of the super combined (SC) slid down to the next gate keeper and thanked them profusely for being there and volunteering their time. Don’t worry folks, Cassidy came back later in the week and became the 1st ever U16 Woman’s slalom champion!!
And please don’t forget our friends from Alpine Canada. Sometimes the brunt of finger pointing and blame this organization went beyond the call of duty by sending Director of Domestic Sport, Dusan Grasic (former Canadian team World Cup tech coach with 9 World Cup podiums under his belt) to the event 4 days in advance to shape the terrain and make sure our athletes would be safe no matter what. Grasic was also out on the hill on the final day during the team event marking in the times with a sharpie trying his best, along with many others, to make it as memorable an experience as possible for the athletes.
It’s this kind of a plot that makes you realize why we love this sport so much. Why we fight the long dark winters by getting up at unjustifiable hours to get first tracks and enable our own athletes to get as much training as possible so they can knock a few hundredths of a second off their time. And ultimately at the end the day it’s about the community and the people that make this such a beautiful thing. As one great ski racing mind Aldo Radamus once told me, “there are no losers in this sport“. Some will make it to the top but most will not – but no matter what happens you can be sure that at the end of the day we are enriching the lives of young people and the lessons learned and experiences gained will propel them in life to be serious contributors.
Now back to Dave B one last time. Amidst the final day of racing chaos he somehow managed to pull together the team event 1st prize with a canoe paddle that was awarded to the winning team Alberta at the final banquet celebration on Saturday night along with just a few other items….. The paddle was a great hit and marks the beginning of yet another amazing Canadian ski racing tradition.
So here’s to you Thunder Bay. For showing the country how ski racing was meant to be. And for opening your doors and providing an experience that we will all remember for a very, very long time.
Executive Director, AOA.