The moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here. World Cup speed action returns this weekend with the opening men’s downhill and super-G races of the season in Lake Louise, Canada.
Lake Louise hosted its first World Cup race in 1980 with the men racing downhill and Italy’s Herbert Plank taking the inaugural victory. The women followed in 1989 with a pair of downhills of their own as Switzerland’s Michela Figini swept the series. The venue has regularly held World Cups since 1994 and has been the traditional kickoff to the World Cup speed season for well over a decade.
The race track at Lake Louise is one of the few stops on the World Cup tour where the men and women will compete on the same track. Despite the fact that the courses are slightly adjusted in certain sections for the women, including a lower start, the track remains relatively similar for the women who race down it the weekend after the men.
Although known as one of, if not the, “easiest” downhills on the men’s tour (though, let’s be honest, there’s nothing easy about World Cup downhill), Lake Louise has been a barometer of sorts for the men’s field to gauge who will be contending for the always fierce yearly battle for the coveted downhill title. With the race for the crystal globe regularly coming down to a handful of points at the end of the past several seasons, early results at Lake Louise are critical if any athlete is hoping to mount a serious campaign for the title.
Described by some as a glider’s track, Lake Louise does not share some of the gnarly technical sections common at a venue like Beaver Creek or Kitzbuehel and more often than not it favors precision, aerodynamics, and sound tactics over risk taking and pure nerves on race day. It is fairly uncommon to see a younger, less experienced racer break through at Lake Louise for this very reason.
Switzerland’s Beat Feuz will begin defense of his downhill title from last season and will also be looking for back-to-back wins in Lake Louise after starting his season last year with a win in the downhill. With a downhill win, he would become only the second man to win consecutive downhills in Lake Louise after Austrian great Stephan Eberharter won in 2001 and 2003 (no race was held in 2002). In fact, no man has won the downhill more than twice in Lake Louise with Eberharter, Switzerland’s Didier Couche, Austira’s Michael Walchofer, and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal being the only racers to win twice.
Speaking of Svindal, the Norwegian living legend and 2018 Olympic downhill champion, suffered a broken hand in training last week in Copper, Colorado, and underwent surgery soon afterwards.
“A small bump in the road, and racing should still be very possible in the near future,” he said on Instagram. A small bump indeed as Svindal was announced as a starter for the Norwegians this weekend and will no doubt be gunning for the top step of the podium. With a recently repaired hand, however, it remains to be seen how effective Svindal will be out of the start, especially if the start is moved to a lower, flatter location than normal due to weather.
Canadian ski racing legend Erik Guay is on the start list this weekend after sitting out almost the entirety of last season with a recurring back injury. Guay has announced that this would be his last season skiing on the World Cup tour. Guay finished 5th during his training run in Lake Louise last season, but was forced to withdraw from the event due to his back. The Canadian started in additional training runs during the season, hoping to be healthy enough to start, but was unable to feel healthy enough to kick out of a starting gate on race day. Now with time off to fully recuperate under his belt, the 37-year-old is fully recovered and ready to once again compete for podiums on the World Cup tour.
The American Downhillers will also be making their 2018-19 debut this weekend with healthy veterans Travis Ganong and Steve Nyman returning from knee injuries to headline the team. Lake Tahoe native, Bryce Bennett, and Salt Lake City local, Jared Goldberg, both stepped up in a big way last season with the absence of Nyman and Ganong and punched their way into the top 30 rankings. In total, the United States has nine athletes set to take training runs with final starters to be announced before race day.
The downhill in Lake Louise will take place on Saturday, Nov. 24, with the start time scheduled for 12:15pm local time. The super-G is scheduled for 12:00pm for Sunday, Nov. 25. For fans in the United States, races can be streamed live online via NBC Sports Gold Snowpass as well as rebroadcast later in the day on the Olympic Channel.