Every year we eagerly anticipate the return of winter and this year that anticipation is stronger than ever. The Canadian Ski Teams have been busy getting ready for the upcoming season. This summer and fall, our teams were able to train on snow in Europe, and now as temperatures begin to drop across Canada some of our teams are back on snow in the world-class training environments we have in our own backyard. For the Canadian Para-Alpine Ski Team (CPAST), that has meant getting set up at Panorama Mountain Resort. CPAST will be training in Panorama for November and December in preparation for the upcoming World Championships in Norway.
We spoke with CPAST Head Coach Jean-Sébastien Labrie and Manager of Racing and Events at Panorama Mountain Resort, Maryse Dazé-Wilson to find out how CPAST and Panorama’s Operations, Racing and Events Teams are approaching this year’s pre-season training with new norms and what they are expecting from this season.
How have you and your team been getting ready for the season and how has that been different than past years?
Jean-Sébastien Labrie (JSL): Obviously, it’s quite different for us this year. It’s like we’re sixth months late in our calendar. We had two camps canceled. So, our volume of skiing is low compared to a normal training season. We’re happy to be on snow and happy to be here at Panorama but we’re taking the next two months to catch up.
Maryse Dazé-Wilson (MDW): In preparation for this season the entire Panorama team has been working with all the government guidelines, and as a resort with our Risk and Safety Team to determine the best way to keep all our guests safe. We’ve been working diligently to ensure necessary protocols are in place. Our preseason opened Nov. 6 which is one of the earliest starts to the season we’ve ever had!
How has pre-season training changed because of COVID?
JSL: COVID changed a lot about how we did dryland this offseason because we couldn’t centralize in Whistler. As a team, we held weekly Zoom meetings and our trainer was following along with how the athletes were doing at home. In August we brought the team together in Whistler for six weeks. We lost a lot of volume of skiing, time for testing equipment, and such. COVID kept us on our toes but we were focused on making sure we were making the right decisions for the health of the team, but we also wanted to prepare them as best we could for the season.
MDW: From an on-snow perspective, starts are separate if there is more than one team training in a lane, you have to wear masks in the lift line and on the lift as well. As far as on-snow experience, we’re trying to give athletes the best experience on snow so when they’re skiing down, they can forget for a minute or two that the world is in a global pandemic. In terms of skiing down the hill, not much has changed, other than mask-wearing, and respecting their team bubbles.
What precautions and protocols do you and your team have in place to keep everyone safe?
JSL: There’s a lot of precaution and protocols the team and the mountain have in place. We’re making sure we’re protecting everyone as best we can. We fill out a daily questionnaire and addressing any issues right away. We’re doing our best to create a safe and strong team bubble.
MDW: Ahead of team arrivals, there are additional pre-screening forms that must be completed. From a lodging perspective Panorama has gone above and beyond to make sure teams are in the same buildings, confined to their bubbles, always mask-wearing, and posting reminders of proper hygiene protocol. Our onsite restaurants are open but are take out only to promote additional safety. Our Food and Beverage Team has worked diligently to provide meals plans in a socially distanced manner, in small bubbled groups supplemented with dividers between tables.
What hasn’t changed for you and your team in preparation for the upcoming season?
JSL: What we’re here for is to ski faster when it counts and I think that part is still the target, to perform at World Champs. We’re trying to make gains in the athletes skiing and what kind of athlete they want to become. The goals remain for the most part the same. We’re trying to not look too far into the future but to get better every day. We’re pumped to be on snow, and we feel lucky to do what we do at the moment. But we’re keeping it simple.
MDW: Panorama’s goal is for the quality of training to be the same as our teams always expect. Our snow preparation has not changed. Bryan Kroker (Slopes Manager at Panorama Mountain Resort) and his team have gone above and beyond and delivered earlier than expected given all the challenges with mother nature that we’ve had recently. From a racing perspective, we want to deliver the same product as we always have.
What advantage does training on home soil give our teams?
JSL: November and December are always a time of the season when we use the best training in Canada, and for many years that has been in Panorama. Especially this year, we needed it badly because we’re a bit behind the European teams, but we always count on this time of year to catch up.
MDW: Being in our own country right now helps if something like restrictions should happen, we’re right at home. We love having the Canadian teams here on home soil. We try to make everyone feel at home here at Panorama. They know the terrain, the system, they come here knowing what to expect. They don’t have to deal with jet lag or work through different rules. It’s hopefully a sense of comfort. They know what to expect when they arrive. We have gone above and beyond to make them feel safe during this global pandemic and once they feel safe, we hope it allows them to easily focus on their goals.
We know this winter will be like none other but what are you most excited about this season?
JSL: We’re excited to race at World Championships and be in Norway. I’m super excited to see the Olympic venue in China and go to the test events there. I think our target this year is focused on these two events, that’s what drives us every day.
MDW: You know, right now watching athletes ski down a course and the smile on their face is the biggest reward I could have. People are so excited to be back on snow, and to be part of the team that is giving them the opportunity to be here is a huge win. Obviously, once we have a ton of snow this winter because you know it’s coming… when we’re all standing at the top of Tayton Bowl about to drop down, it’s going to make this world hopefully feel a little better. These athletes are pumped to be here, they are excited to be on snow again, and they follow the rules because they want to be a huge part of keeping this going. It’s so great to see.
Panorama Mountain Resort and many Canadian ski resorts have joined forces to create a guide to safety in the mountains this winter, so check out Ski Well Be Well before you hit the road this season.