The first World Cup Downhill of the 2011-2012 season will kick off in Lake Louise, Canada this week. It marks the start of a tour that features racing nearly every weekend for the next four months, at locations all over the globe.
The World Cup Tour is featured heavily in Europe and Scandinavia, where skiing is often a way of life, but we get to host the early season events here in North America before heading across the pond. Many of the European teams, including the Austrians, Swiss, Norwegians and French have come over early this year to take advantage of the early snowfall in Colorado and parts of Canada and get some training time in on the hill.
The US Team has been training at Copper Mountain and Vail the last few weeks, and it has been superb. These pre-season training sessions are the culmination of a preparation period that began in Mammoth Mountain, California last May and has taken us to New Zealand and Chile along the way.
This season we were pleasantly surprised by the addition of the brand new US Ski Team Speed Center in Copper Mountain Colorado. The project has been in the works since 2004, but finally the funding came through to build what is essentially the only early season downhill training venue in North America. The run is complete with fencing and safety nets to protect the racers, and a brand new snow making system that will hopefully ensure skiing by early November for years to come. The venue has already seen use from the US, Austrian, Canadian and Norwegian men’s Downhill teams and has received a ringing endorsement from all.
After a prep period of great training and good skiing weather, it is safe to say that the US boys are as ready as we will ever be for the World Cup season to begin. As the race season nears the training sessions get more competitive and the anticipation builds daily. Six months of gym days and early mornings of training on the hill, with nobody watching, is about to be replaced by world-wide television coverage, stoked fans, and big prize money.
Speaking of prize money, I am often asked if I am able to make a living skiing for the USA. The answer is yes, but I have to ski really fast. By rule, the minimum amount that a race organizer can pay a race winner is 30,000 Swiss francs, or a little more than $32,000 US. Some of the prestigious venues like Kitzbuhel will pay much more, but most weeks we only get paid if we finish in the top 10 places overall.
The life of a ski racer is a lot of prep for a few minutes of glory. However, when we arrive in Canada this week there will be a big smiles all around because another winter is officially upon us. Tune in on Saturday the 26th to cheer on the US boys and see the world's fastest ski racers in action on the hill at Lake Louise.