What an experience! Many of us Canadian Masters’ racers have been planning to attend the 2020 WWMG event for many years. I myself was not yet “of age” to attend the 2011 WWMG event held in Kranjska Gora and have been motivated to attend this year’s event ever since hearing all of the positive reviews of the 2011 event from my racing pears. Innsbruck, Austria, is where ski racing is as popular as a hockey game in Canada; this event location promised high participation numbers from undoubtedly the best Masters’ ski racers in the world. It delivered on that promise with more than 700 alpine athletes attending the event, from around the world. Canada had, I believe, the second highest participation numbers with over 60 Canadians participating in the alpine events. All alpine events were held at the nearby Patscherkofel ski complex. Landing at the Innsbruck airport likely caused similar thoughts in the minds of most of the foreign racers and that thought was “where is all the snow”. The weather in Innsbruck was mild, so mild that the nearby ski hills were struggling to even make snow. Many of us, myself included, had some baggage mishaps but to my knowledge, all Canadian athletes received their luggage undamaged in time to ski a little before the official race days.
The first race day featured a non-FIS sprint GS race that many of us were confused about going into the event as little details were given regarding the course set and type, whether it would be a dual elimination race as per events in previous years, etc. As it turns out, it was a relatively tight set single run GS and a reduced course length from the regular GS race days. For the duration of the event, the men’s field was split into two groups. The 30-59 year old men, in the A group, raced on the World Cup run and the 60-89 year old men, in the B group, and the entire women’s group (30-79 years old) raced on an adjacent run. Many of us in the men’s A group had some feelings of jealousy over much of the event as the World Cup run was steep, narrow and dark, due its north facing, with very hard snow while the women and men, in the B group, at the very least, enjoyed the sun for the majority of the day. Overall, it was a successful day with many Canadian podiums within their respective age categories.
The opening ceremonies were held on the evening of this first race day and they sure were a very cool experience. All athletes from around the world, in all events, paraded through Old Town Innsbruck. The parade ended at a stage with live music and entertainment. Again, Canada was well represented many of us were hard to miss.
Race day #2 featured an extremely challenging two-run FIS slalom for the men’s A group and a one-run FIS GS for the men’s B group and women’s C group. Participation numbers from this day onward were considerably higher presumably due to many of the prominent FIS athletes had attended another nearby FIS race on the previous day. Overall on the men’s A side, I was blown away at the level of the average athlete with numerous ex Europa Cup and World Cup racers in the field. I am sure the feeling was similar for the participants in the B/C groups. I have been involved in ski racing from a young age and never have I had a starting bib in the 200-300s! I was surprised the courses held up as well as they did but a racecourse where 200-300 athletes have gone in front of you was an experience to say the least! Most impressive was how many athletes still attacked a course that was that long and rough. Well over half the field were eliminated in the first run of the men’s A group slalom.
Race day #3 swapped events whereby the A group competed in a single run GS and the B group raced a two-run slalom. The women’s C group had a day off the racecourse and were able to come cheer and encourage the men or take the day to recharge. Again, I can only speak for my personal experience, but a GS course with 345 athletes skiing the same course relates to a very rough ride. Despite the course conditions, many of the Canadian men had very respectable results on both sides.
Race day #4 was intended to be the Super G day for the men’s A group. I have had many of my best results in Super G but was personally nervous for this race, as the race run was extremely rough, after three days of racing. Additionally the Super G was intended to have a lower finish than the previous two races but due to lack of snow, the plan was revised to raise the start to the top of a cat track near the gondola top station. This would have resulted in exiting the start gate and “tucking” down a narrow cat track for a hundred meters or so before doing a 120-degree turn onto the World Cup race run. In the end logic prevailed, I guess, and due to conditions and the fact they still could not get enough additional gates in to meet FIS requirements, the decision was made the previous day to cancel the Super G and hold a second GS race for all groups. Having transported SG skis across the globe to race on and have the race canceled was disappointing, however, given the conditions it was likely the right decision. The resulting second GS race for the men A group was much like the first, just bumpier; this concluded the racing for the men’s A group. On the other side, the men’s B group had the day off while the women’s C group raced their two-run slalom over the bumps and ruts, the men had put in the previous day.
The final day of racing originally scheduled for the men’s B and women’s C group Super G was also altered to a second GS race for reasons mentioned previously, however, they raced on the World Cup run that the men’s A group had been skiing on. Rough conditions to weather after numerous days of racing but again there were numerous respectable results from the Canadian contingent.
Overall, the experience of ski racing with this caliber of athletes, in a location synonymous with the sport, was surreal. Many fellow Canadians spent extra time in the area, skied on other mountains and took in the numerous sights. Some also traveled to the legendary Kitzbühel to view its terrifying awesomeness. I was fortunate enough to travel to relatively nearby Flachau and watch the women’s World Cup slalom night race with my close friend Adam Kennedy. It was a spectacle, the European equivalent to a NHL playoff game.
The majority of the Canadian alpine athletes stayed in the Bon-Alpina hotel, under the organization of Rich Deacon and his company Sobek. I would like to thank Rich on behalf of us all, for taking upon himself to organize these accommodations as well as the waxing space he procured and the to/from airport travel arrangements. Having so many of us all together was a big part of the overall experience and having this all put together as a package made the trip much less daunting.
We would also like to thank Victoria Fenninger for designing the WWMG Canadian jackets that many of the Canadian athletes, as well as spouses/partners, wore throughout the event. I know there was lots of positive feedback and/or jealousy from Canadian athletes competing in other events!
Thank you to Tiana Koffler-Boyman for setting up the “Catch Us if You Can” WhatsApp group to keep us all informed and connected to one another.
Thank you to Sharon Chadwick for posting so much, and so often, on the Canadian Alpine Masters’ Facebook page with results, photos, etc to feed the “buzz”.
Thank you to Ron Perryman for initiating the idea of WWMG sweaters and Pat Butler for seeing it through.
A special thank you to Claudio Berto for everything you do; being our voice at the racers’ meetings, video recording our race runs and constantly being up the Race Committee’s “ass” with regards to our safety!
Jason Barton | Alberta Masters’ Representative