A Week With The NCOST

This month, Eric Bernard from Sporting Life Ottawa had the opportunity to spend a week with the National Capital Outaouais Ski Team (NCOST). He represented the Sporting Life Race Department as an assistant for on-hill training and learned from the best of the best. Below is his daily log from his experience working with NCOST elite athletes!

Day 1

This is an excellent opportunity for me to assist the team in their journey through the season as well as further my understandings of the ski racing world. The athletes had grins ear to ear seeing me show up at the airport this morning. The weather on the other hand wasn’t too pleased to see me go. From the moment I rolled out of bed to takeoff at YOW; big, fat, white gold making its way down. Luckily we were able to takeoff on time. The flight went well, got a chance to finally watch the sequel to one of my favourite movies (Bon Cop Bad Cop 2). Definitely worth the watch. Skis, tools and equipment made it through the unforgiving hands of the baggage handlers OK. We got settled in to our rooms at the Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge. Skis were unloaded and prepped for training tomorrow. We’re starting things off nice and easy tomorrow with some GS freeskiing. Getting down to business with some lane space and gates in the ground in the afternoon. I can’t wait to see these kids shred some gates and slay some arcs. After slaving over their equipment since July I’m curious to see it perform on the snow.

Day 2

First day of training was off to a good start. Woke up to the most extravagant of sunrises I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. Mountain peaks, sunshine, snow.. What more can a skier as for? With vans packed and athletes still half asleep, we left for Nakiska. We arrive to the pleasant sight of 30 fresh centimeters of white gold.

Err.. Well.. Pleasant for me!.. Not so much for the 80 odd some racers occupying the mountain alongside me. These guys need hardpacked and groomed conditions to truly perform. Luckily we had a dedicated training lane on the upper mountain in the afternoon and not the morning. Leaving all the snow clearing and hard work to the Italian team in the AM. We had a couple laps on the lower mountain. Athletes attempting to carve through the crud on their race skis whilst I was cruising and shredding with ease on a demo pair of Rossi EXP 88’s. After having lunch with few of our friends over on the Ontario FIS team, we head out to set for the afternoon. Boy oh boy do I not miss schlepping bundles of gates. As we set our way down the mountain Joey (coach of the team) was getting increasingly worried about the ruts left by the Italian Super-G course. Finally with gates in the ground and sore legs from slipping, the course was ready for racing. One by one athletes made their way down the mountain. The first few runs were rough. Athletes looking flustered trying to work the new GS skis around the gates. Fog settled in, as did frustration with a few athletes. Most disappointed in their skiing performance. Luckily a few breakthroughs were made towards the end of the training session to raise morale. Tear down was clockwork, working with experienced athletes makes a world of difference. Kids knowing to roll up gate panels, or bungeeing bundles made Joey’s work easy.

Back to the base of the mountain we went. Gear off, vans packed we head home for the evening. Back at the lodge a few bindings needed inspections. Exhausted I wrote this email, now it’s time for bed.

Day 3

Day two of training was off to a later start today. We had our training lane in the afternoon again so we figured we would let the athletes sleep in a little longer.

Faire la grasse matinée as we say in French. Yesterday was a long one. Vans again loaded with racing equipment and groggy racers, we made our way to the hill.

Morning free skiing was a hit, snow was stellar and the kids were skiing well. Over lunch, Joey worked some of his socializing magic and scored us the course the Albertan team had set in the AM. No need to set gates for us! A bit of slipping and adjusting gates and the course was ready to race. The athletes were tearing up the course run after run. I spent most of my afternoon slipping and standing on the sideline listening to Joey’s critiquing of the young racers. Mostly repeating the same thing. These athletes all seem to suffer from the same technique failures. Incomplete turn shapes forcing them to step to the next turn. Video footage was taken by Joey’s assistant in order to help the athletes understand the crucial changes they need to make to their skiing. Once we were back at the lodge, Joey proceeded to take the athletes aside, one by one to go over the footage. During this time I had the chance to spend some time in the tuning room with the athletes as they prepared skis for the next training day. This granted me the opportunity to correct a few tuning misconceptions, adjust some bindings and make sure the skis I worked so hard to make fast stay that way! With skis ready to race and athletes eager to work on their skiing, I now make my way to bed.

I’m curious to see how the athletes will ski tomorrow after the video feedback.

Day 4

Day three of training was an interesting one. The weather seemed promising on the way to the hill. The sunshine was peeking its way through the Rockies. The morning’s freeskiing session went smooth as athletes were adjusting to the soft and warm snow. Once we got up to the summit for the afternoon was when the tables turned. A cold front had made its way to the hill and flipped the conditions for the worse. Rain was starting to come down on the mountain making the soft snow even softer. This had far worse repercussions than anticipated. Due to the extra-soft snow, ruts starting forming at speeds faster than we could work them out. As a result, one of the athletes skied off the race line and into a rut, only to get bucked and bent the tip of his ski. After that, we called it a day and pulled the course. Things were getting too hairy to keep racing. Once back at the lodge Joey  attempted to bend the ski back into shape with no success. I fortunately was able to get a hold of our Volkl rep and got him to send out a replacement pair for the athlete. The athletes and I spent the evening in the tuning room going over tool maintenance and equipment maintenance as well. Cleaning files, keeping base brushes clean, regularly checking bindings, tightening boot buckles. The forecast for tomorrow isn’t very inspiring either. Rain day in and out.

Keeping my fingers crossed the rain turns to snow in the altitude of the mountain.

Day 5 & 6

Day four of training was not much to write home about. The non-stop rain had Nakiska underwater and closed for the day. So the athletes and I took advantage of the opportunity to go over the skis, make sure all edges were sharp and bindings well adjusted. Day five on the other hand, was an awesome day of training.

We showed up to the hill with a few cm of new snow on the ground. Freeskiing in the morning was great. The athletes were skiing well and the sun poked out of the clouds to soften the hard choppy snow under the powder at the base of the mountain. After lunch we took the training to the reserved lane at the summit. The conditions there were spectacular. The new snow had been blown clean off the mountain by heavy gusts. Leaving only the rock solid man made tarmac to race on. Ideal conditions for peak performance. Now that the athletes were on familiar snow, they really started to shine. Some talent that had been held back since the beginning of the camp was starting to become apparent. With gates in the ground and timing set up the competitive atmosphere was booming. Athletes were huddled up at the finish of the course waiting as their teammates made their way down. Comparing times, discussing different skiing tactics, approach lines and such. It was fascinating to see how skiing performance drastically changed when timed runs were thrown into the mix. At the end of the day, high-fives were exchanged by all followed by laughs and a lot of “I’ll get you next time!”‘s.

The ski racing happening up the road from us has the kids stoked and really in a racing mood. Can’t wait to see our Canadian Cowboys race Lake Louise tomorrow! Go team Canada!!

Day 7

Day six of training was like none other we’ve had all week. No skiing was to be done. Dreams and goal setting on the other hand was the theme of the day. We got to Lake Louise just as the racers of the day were warming up for the race. Until today, I’d never had the pleasure of attending a World Cup ski race. This is no U14 local race. The men out here are charging for the podium. As start time approached, the NCO athletes and I strategically posted ourselves in the finish corral with good view of the race track. Chris Powers’s and Fuzzy’s athletes got the chance to run the track as forerunners. An excellent opportunity for them to get some World Cup grade speed skiing under their belts. After the they made their way down the crowd was humming in anticipation for the first racers. The atmosphere was electric. I can’t imagine what it was like at the other end of the track. One by one, the racers hauled their way down the race track. Steep right out of the gate. Two pushes from the gate and these guys were cooking. Crouching the tucks as aerodynamic as possible through the Sunset Flats, anything to hold on to that precious speed. Flying around Coaches, hanging on with every inch of ski edge they had. Only to get thrown from one side of the hill to the other on the Fallaway. You could hear the crowd hold their breath every time someone came buzzing around that corner. Banging out of the Gun Barrel with ludicrous speeds.

Finally the racers would come into view at Claire’s Corner. Flat out tuck to the finish to a roaring crowd. Every time one of these guys crossed the line, the only thought that crossed my mind was such. This is racing. The podium was as follows, Beat Feuz 1st, Mathias Meyer 2nd and Aksel Lund Svindal 3rd. There was one performance that stood out from all the others. Broderick Thompson climbed his way into the scoring field of the race from starting bib 38 finishing 23rd.

An impressive result given the quickly deteriorating track conditions. After the award ceremony everyone made their way to the Chateau Fairmont for the bib draw for the SG tomorrow. Food, cocktails and ski racing. Now that’s a party. I got the chance to catch up with my Race Dpt teammates, coworkers and mentors, Chris and Fuzzy. I ran into a lot more Ottawa folks than I expected. As the night went on, the racers were called up to the stage one by one to pick their starting position for the next race. Chris and I were trying to guess who would pick what number, what strategy they would go with. We were surprised to see bib 1 left to the last racer. With the start list ready for tomorrow, we called it a night and head back to Canmore.

I can’t wait to go see another one of these races. Never have I felt so much thrill watching these people stare danger right in the face and conquer.

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