Alpine Canada grapples with uncertainty of COVID-19 amid preparations for new season

Alpine Canada grapples with uncertainty of COVID-19 amid preparations for new season

It’s been years since Brodie Seger spent this much time off his racing skis.

“It would have been back when I was like 13,” said the 24-year-old member of Alpine Canada’s downhill ski team.

Normally Canada’s top ski racers would train on snow right up until the first week of May. After a break from dryland training, they would return to snow again in late June or July.

With COVID-19 disrupting the World Cup season and forcing athletes off ski hills, it’s been about 10 weeks since Seger has done any race training.

“It’s been very interesting and a new experience, that’s for sure,” said the North Vancouver, B.C., resident. “It’s weird to think I’ve spent the last two months basically on my mountain bike more than I ever have before. There were a few things I wasn’t really anticipating when this whole situation started to unfold.”

Like many sports affected by the global pandemic, COVID-19 has scuttled Alpine Canada’s training program, leaving athletes and coaches scrambling to make plans to prepare for next season.

“We’re already starting to lose some critical days of training,” said Phil McNichol, Alpine Canada’s high performance director for Alpine skiing.

“It’s quite a dramatic shifting of the landscape under our feet.”

Seger’s last race was a downhill at Kvitfjell, Norway, on March 7. The cancellation of the World Cup finals, scheduled for March 18-22 at Cortina d’Ampezzo, in northern Italy, resulted in Seger returning home.

Canada’s Brodie Seger competes during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup at Kvitjell on March 7. This would be Seger’s final race prior to sweeping cancellations in the sport caused by COVID-19. (Jonas Ericsson/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

He had hoped to compete in the Canadian Championships March 25-28 in Panorama, B.C., but they were also cancelled due to the virus. So were training camps scheduled for Panorama, and Sunshine Village Ski Resort in Alberta.

“As it stands now, we’re in limbo a little bit,” said McNichol. “Obviously all the athletes have been trying to stay active and be engaged in physical fitness.”

Stuck in a holding pattern

As safety restrictions for COVID-19 begin to loosen, Alpine Canada hopes to begin conditioning and fitness tests for athletes in late June or early July. The “first preliminary plan” is to get back on snow in August or early September, most likely in Europe.

“We’re still in kind of a holding pattern” depending on travel restrictions, McNichol said.

He would like to see the team have 45 to 60 days of training before the season begins, but would settle for 25 to 30.

Seger said the long break will allow some athletes to recharge both physically and mentally.

“Being sort of forced to stay away for a little while, I think it’s definitely going to make us hungrier,” he said.

When the World Cup season may begin remains a question.

FIS, the international body that governs ski racing, will be holding virtual meetings to try to devise a calendar. Complicating matters, some European countries are already training on snow, giving them an advantage.

The World Cup ski season usually begins in October with technical events on the Soelden Glacier in Austria. The first speed events are held at Lake Louise, Alta., and Beaver Creek, Colo., in late November, before the season moves to Europe.

“If the playing field is not level, do we need to postpone [the start] of the season so that all the teams can kind of be at the same place?” McNichol said. “It would be a reasonable assumption to think there would be some changes and adaptation.

“Could the season start in the first of the year instead of the end of October? I would say that is a reasonable possibility.”

As for the entire season being in danger, McNichol said “anything is possible.”

Osborne-Paradis mounting a comeback

Keeping a close eye on the situation is veteran racer Manuel Osborne-Paradis who is still recovering from a November 2018 crash at Lake Louise, Alta., that shattered his tibia and fibula so badly there were concerns he might lose his leg.

Even with a reduced number of training days, Osborne-Paradis believes he’s on track to return to skiing this season, with the goal of competing at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect my comeback,” said the 36-year-old, who has 11 World Cup podiums and a world championship bronze medal. “If I get 40 days on snow . . . that would probably be the minimum to be ready. Anything more than that is the cherry on top.”

A cancellation of the World Cup season would end his Olympic dream.

“Not having a season would probably be the death of me as a ski racer,” he said. “Two years, I would say, would be the max you can be off snow and stay competitive. After that, I don’t think there [is] any chance. It’s too long.”

ICYMI | Osborne-Paradis breaks down psyche of a ski racer:

The Canadian ski racer takes us into his mind and explains in vivid detail what it’s like to compete during a world class ski competition. 5:17

Published at Thu, 14 May 2020 08:00:00 +0000