Scattered about the country, Canada’s best up and coming ski cross athletes have historically been going it alone. The skiers have been isolated from one another, training solo and paying out of pocket for access to specialized programs and facilities.
It’s hard and expensive to follow a solitary path, and not overly conducive to fostering team dynamics and building a strong, competitive team. Thankfully, all that is changing.
Alpine Canada Alpin and the Canada Ski Cross program have created a Centralized Training and Education Program in Calgary, which allows athletes to simultaneously pursue post-secondary education and high performance sport. The program targets ski cross athletes from across Canada with potential who are three to six years from Olympic success.
Leveraging Calgary training facilities, including the CSI Calgary and local ski resorts, athletes will take advantage of integrated services while completing their education.
The CSI Calgary strongly supports this new initiative. Jason Poole, Director of Performance Services, says, “We are here to help and offer the team everything they need to achieve a high quality training environment,” he says. “Proximity to the National Sport School and the local universities and colleges also helps with supporting their education goals.”
Willy Raine, Ski Cross Athletic Director at Alpine Canada Alpin, has been working toward achieving this goal since starting in his role two years ago. For him it’s about more than just getting the athletes training together. “One of the key components of this program is education,” he says. “My goal is to get 75% of the team into post-secondary education. This model will help create better athletes, and help them have better balance in life.”
In addition to a focus on education however, the benefits of centralization include training together, which improves team dynamics and creates an environment where athletes support each other.
Kevin MacDonald, a Next Gen team member, says that with the team now training together they are pushing each other in workouts, something they weren’t able to do before. “We really push each other in the gym,” he says. “If I see one guy lift a certain weight I’m going to try and match or better that, it helps us work harder.”
For Raine, the primary objective is continuing to dominate on the world stage, no small feat for a program that is already number one in the world. “Ultimately centralizing the team will give us an advantage – the stronger the team is collectively the better we will be against the world. When one of us wins, we all win.”
Part of the rationale for centralization is financial sustainability. Having a centralized program that brings gym and on-snow training into one region, greatly reduces the costs to the athlete and the organization. According to Raine it’s just not economically feasible to create programs at multiple ski hills across the country. “We have to bring them together to get them the development they need. We need to push from below to keep the program growing.”
One of the goals of this new program is to develop athletes to the point where they are progressing from NorAm and Europa Cup competitions into World Cup competitions already at a high level. “We want to compress the development phase so that when the Next Gen athletes step up to the Word Cup level they are ready to start in the top 16, to make it into finals,” says Raine.
MacDonald is grateful for the opportunity to train with his team and go to school. “Now we are all doing the same thing, we can relate to each other, it makes the team better.”
Raine is equally happy to see his brainchild come to fruition. He passionately believes they are on the right track to developing both champion ski cross racers and successful students. “We need to help set them up for life, not just sport.”
Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover
Photo: Alpine Canada Alpin