Canadian ladies with high goals

05 September 2011 12:14

Speed isn’t everything for the head coach of Canada’s ladies' alpine team.

As his young, talented group of skiers prepares to jet off to ski camps in Chile and Switzerland, Hugues Ansermoz has been helping his budding stars develop some of the other skills they need to push for the podium.

“The focus has been on quality, technique and consistency,” said Ansermoz, who opted against having his team compete in races at a recent camp in New Zealand. “We had a team last year that was fast but we had bad races followed by great races. In Zagreb, Croatia, we didn’t have any athletes make it down the course and a few weeks later we had two girls in the top 15.

“This year we said racing is not the priority at the first ski camp and they’ve really stayed focused on what they have to do. They are learning.”

The ladies’ team recently returned to Canada following a month-long camp in New Zealand that included stops in Round Hill and Coronet Peak. Rising star Marie-Michèle Gagnon said she’s looking forward to taking what she learned into the next camp. Canada’s top technical skiers are bound for Saas-Fee, Switzerland, in mid-September while the speed team and younger skiers head to Chile.

“For me, New Zealand was more of a technique development camp,” said Gagnon. “I really focused on technical points. I was not looking so much for World Cup speed but for solidity, consistency and good functioning in the lower body.

“We had a very good camp, with lots of slalom for most of us. The conditions were nice and icy in Coronet, which is what most of us needed to spend some time on. I am really excited to take that progress into the Saas-Fee camp and start looking for fast runs.”

With the Canadian team featuring a young but talented group of technical skiers that also includes Marie-Pier Préfontaine, Anna Goodman and Erin Mielzynski, Ansermoz is looking forward to watching his group continue to develop during the 2011/12 World Cup season.

“It’s still going to be tough but a podium is our dream result. We feel that we are getting closer,” said Ansermoz. “In the technical events, anything is possible.”

Following the retirement of veteran Britt Janyk, the team is short on speed skiers. Larisa Yurkiw returned from a long-term injury at the New Zealand camp and the upcoming camp in Chile will mark a return to snow for the most decorated and experienced member of the ladies’ team, Kelly VanderBeek.

“I’m doing very well and the knee is continuing to progress. Last month I made some huge gains and feel quite strong and athletic again in the gym,” said VanderBeek, who has been working her way back from serious knee injuries that date back to a December 2009 crash.

“We’re now working on more ‘ski-like’ movements in my final preparation for my first training camp in Chile. As you’d expect, I’m ecstatic about my return to snow. It will be a slow and cautious start as we re-introduce skiing to my knee.

“Mark Heard, my latest surgeon, is on board with the return to snow plan and will follow my progress over the coming months. This has been a team effort getting me back to this stage, and I recognize there is a lot of work yet to be done. Still, I’ll be on snow soon and that’s a big step - or carve, in this case - in the right direction!”

Ansermoz said the return of Yurkiw and VanderBeek is a huge boost for the whole team. However, since both skiers have been out for a while, no one should expect an instant return to competition, he said. Neither athlete is expected to be ready to race at the start of the 2011-12 World Cup season, which kicks off in October.

“Kelly’s plan is to ski one out of three days to start with,” said Ansermoz. “It will take time but it’s great to see her back.”

The ladies’ team has been centralized in Calgary and Canmore this summer and Ansermoz believes his athletes have benefited from being part of a structured program that allowed them to work closely with conditioning coach Matt Jordan and team physios and psychologists.

“Our girls are looking so strong physically and their mental strength is also something they have worked on,” said Ansermoz. “The New Zealand camp was a big step for the girls. There’s more confidence and the team has more maturity.”