More Skiing, Less Speedsuits

What does a year without the Lake Louise World Cup mean for average skiers?

The World Cup ski racing circuit begins every year with a two-week party at Lake Louise, but like so many things, it’s taking 2020 off. 

On a normal season, all the world’s skiing countries send their fastest to Alberta at the end of November. Local favourites take on the international giants of racing and for one week, the attention of skiers here is focused on an icy strip of mountain and a group of latex-suited superhumans. Race fans come from all over to stand in the cold cheering and ringing cowbells with nationalistic fervour. 

Over the years, I’ve learned how to survive the World Cup influx while still getting as much early-season powder as possible. While the crowds gather at the finish line, most diehards like to sneak off to the backside for fresh turns. Once it’s all tracked out or once you’re too cold to ski anymore (November in the Rockies!), you can head back to the race area to take advantage of the free hot chocolate and snacks from the sponsor’s tents.

I’ll miss those treats at the base, but I often found getting to Summit Platter a bit of a hassle while the races were going. The new Summit Quad Chair may have helped, but the Upper and Lower Wave are such fun runs early season. I’m happy not to have them blocked off by race fences or all the infrastructure that gets set up for the event.

  Image: Reuben Krabbe / SkiBig3

The men’s training runs usually start the last week of November, and by the time the actual races begin on the weekend,  Banff is ready to party. It all starts with the Santa Claus Parade down Banff Avenue. These parties are of course cancelled this year, but I usually skipped them in favour of the ski movie premiers and gatherings at different bars around town. It's these annual early-season meetings of the ski tribe that I will miss most this season.

On the positive side, Lake Louise used its snowmaking capacity to blanket the lower mountain’s main runs instead of the racecourse this year, leading to its earliest opening ever on Oct. 29, 2020.

It takes a lot of snow to get the downhill course ready, and Louise has a limited amount of water it can use, not to mention staff hours and resources. The focus in the past has always been to get the racecourse covered. This year, with their attention focused on average skiers, they were able to blow snow for a nice, long groomed run right from the top of the Grizzly Express gondola. Not only was it early, it was a good opening.

During the usual craziness of the World Cup, Lake Louise offers a more relaxed vibe than Banff. Visitors can stay at the Chateau with the race teams, check out ice sculptures, shop or dine and save their energy for skiing. While it’s still early season in late November, the Rockies almost always have the best skiing in North America at that time (that’s why the World Cup starts here!).

Mikaela Shiffrin at Lake Louise. Image: Devaan Ingraham 

While I often felt guilty about it, after waiting all summer for the resorts to open, I was more eager to get skiing than to stand around watching skiing. I kept in touch with what was happening in the race by checking the big screen while seated on the Glacier Express chair. You could usually catch a racer or two whipping by while to rode up, too.

The second week is the Women’s World Cup’s turn to take the stage. By this time, I’ve usually found a way into the VIP tent at the bottom for free appetizers and specialty coffees. This I will miss. Deeply.

Back in Banff, the partying often comes to a climax with a big street celebration downtown. Roads are blocked to make room for beer tents, food stalls, and live music. The real finale is usually a night of jibbing under the lights of Main Street. Local’s tip; you can watch most of it from the window of a nearby restaurant or bar if you want to be civilized.

Image: Reuben Krabbe / SkiBig3

But alas, these scenes are from another time. This year we need to make do with more Lake Louise terrain open earlier and in better shape, more available parking (as fewer VIPs come to watch the race), less spandex, and more space to enjoy our own skiing. The big races will likely return next year, though - better enjoy having the place to ourselves for now!

Cover image: Lake Louise World Cup