What do you do when you are about to host a world cup alpine racing event and all of a sudden power to your ski hill is no longer available?
If you’re the staff at Lake Louise Ski Area, you keep calm and carry on.
That’s what happened on Saturday (Dec. 2), when a tree took out a powerline in the Lake Louise area around 10 a.m., cutting power to the ski hill, which was set to host Audi FIS World Cup downhill women’s races at 12:30 p.m.
Brand and communication manager Dan Markham said the first thing they had to tackle was shutting down the ski hill to the public and getting skiers and snowboarders down from lifts that stopped working when the power was cut.
“Our first priority was to get people off the lifts, then direct the public that we were not going to be able to offer them a product,” Markham said. “At that point in time, we started talking to the race organizing committee to keep them up to speed.”
It was the second day of world cup races for women alpine skiers – a very important race heading into an Olympic year due to the fact important points needed to qualify for the games are available for top-30 racers.
Team USA superstar Lindsey Vonn said the effort to rally the ski hill to put on the world cup race was “pretty impressive.
“I would say huge props to Lake Louise for getting the race off, they put in a major effort,” Vonn said after her 12th-place finish in the event. “It is pretty cool they were able to have it. I think most people would have given up, so it is pretty impressive.”
The 33-year-old crashed into the netting on Claire’s Corner in the Friday (Dec. 1) race, and took 12th in the Saturday race with a time of 1:28:48. Her teammate, 22-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin, won the race with a time of 1:27:55, followed by Germany’s Viktoria Rebensberg in second place (1:27:68). Swiss racer Michelle Gisin was third (1:27:72).
It was the first world cup downhill win of Shiffrin’s career, which is impressive considering her tenure on the racing circuit.
The course was changed, however, due to the power outage. Markham said all timing equipment and the jumbotron, for example, were running with generator power already and all they needed to figure out was how to get the athletes to the race gate.
But it wasn’t the downhill start that was used; it was the lower super-g start, 460 metres down the course. The shortened course worked in Shiffrin’s favour, she said after her race.
“I know I was really strong yesterday in the bottom part,” she said, adding to have the race shortened was lucky for her. “I am proud of the way I skied, but I am not putting aside that luck.”
Some racers were on the chair lifts when the power went out and had to be assisted by ski hill staff. They also did not get a practice run on the downhill course before the race began at 1:30 p.m.
Getting officials and skiers to the start gate of the course turned into a story line from MacGyver. Markham said the company’s shop workers used ingenuity and materials at hand to create two rope tows, complete with wooden seats to sit on, that day.
The hill’s new Prinoth snow groomers then towed officials and ski racers to the race start. Vonn, however, got to ride in the cab of a snow machine on her way up.
“These kind of cat-pull programs have been used in other places,” Markham said. “The concept isn’t new, it is just a case of having more time to prepare something like that.”
Canadian women’s team racer Valérie Grenier said racing on home soil is an awesome experience for her and her teammates. As for the power outage, she said it was pretty funny for everyone.
“I am glad the organizers found a way to get us up there, that was great of them,” she said.
For Markham, the fact the races went forward is a testament to ski hill staff’s ability to pull together in the face of adversity.
“If everybody had not pulled together in such a wonderful way, I don’t think it could have been done,” he said. “I talked to some folks the next morning … had this been in Europe, it would have been cancelled.”