30 years after ’88, the Olympic spirit is still strong in the Canadian Rockies
As 2018 welcomes another Winter Olympic cycle, this time in Pyeongchang, South Korea, a celebratory mood of athletics and nationhood is in the air. The Winter Olympics honour the best of snow and ice, and they remind us what incredible feats the human body can accomplish in sub-zero temperatures.
The Canadian Rockies has a rich history and relationship with the Olympics. In 1988 Canmore and Kananaskis Country played host to the Nordic and Alpine Skiing events for the Calgary Winter Olympics. With the Canmore Nordic Centre and Nakiska built specifically for the ’88 Games (the 15th Winter Olympics and Canada’s first as host), the legacy of the Games continues to live and thrive in the Rockies as those venues are open to the public and to high-performance athletes, teams, and competitions.
An impressive number of winter athletes and Olympians call the Rockies home. Ryan Smyth, who was born in Banff, had a successful 19-season career in the NHL; in 2010, Brian McKeever became the first Canadian athlete named to both the Olympic and Paralympic teams; and Mike Robertson won the silver medal in snowboard cross at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
To honour the XXIII Winter Olympiad in PyeongChang, and to fête the season of snow and ice, here are four profiles of winter Olympians with close ties to the Rockies.
Thomas Grandi, Alpine Skier (1994, 1998, 2002, and 2006 Olympian)
Born in Italy, but raised in Banff, Grandi is one of the Rockies’ most recognizable and admired athletes (he even has a run named after him at Norquay!). At 15, Grandi was chosen to be a forerunner for the Giant Slalom and Slalom events held at Nakiska for the ’88 Games. Unfortunately, an injury prevented Grandi from forerunning and left him watching from the sidelines on crutches. But the experience wasn’t all bad. Watching the events with special attention on the Canadian and Italian athletes is what Grandi explains as the catalyst to solidifying his dream to be an Olympic Skier.
You can now find Grandi running the Paintbox Lodge, a boutique hotel in Canmore that he owns with Sara Renner, a four-time Olympian and medal winner, and a longtime member of the Canmore Nordic Ski Club, who happens to be his wife. When he’s not at the hotel, you can find him on the slopes of Norquay, where he runs Giv’er Grandi, a program for Bow Valley kids looking to learn the elements of racing in a fun environment.
Rosanna Crawford, Biathlete (2010, 2014, and 2018 Olympian)
Born in Canmore, Crawford describes her hometown as a playground. With endless opportunities from her front door, she has been preparing for her third Winter Games on the trails she’s been familiar with since childhood. In fact, Crawford notes that the Cross Country World Cup trails at the Canmore Nordic Centre are similar to the trails she’ll be racing on in PyeongChang. Though she wasn’t born in time to take in the ’88 Olympics, she explains that without them, she wouldn’t be where she is today.
Jennifer Heil, Freestyle Skier (2002, 2006, and 2010 Olympian; 2006 Olympic Champion)
When Jennifer was young, her family spent family ski days at Jasper’s Marmot Basin because of its close proximity to her childhood home in Spruce Grove, Alberta, where she was born. Heil’s father, Randy, explains that Jennifer showed an interest and natural talent for skiing at an early age: when she was about five years old, Randy lost sight of Jennifer while waiting for the Poma lift at Panorama. To his amazement, when he looked halfway up the hill, he found her riding the Poma to the top all on her own!
It’s no surprise that Heil was quickly dubbed “the Phenom” by her coaches and peers. The Alberta Ski Team had to lower its age restrictions so that Heil could join. Before she was on the team, the Heil family split its time between Fortress Mountain, where Jennifer’s older sister trained with the Ski Team, and Sunshine Village, where Jennifer would spend her days on the slope.
Chandra Crawford, Cross Country Skier (2006, 2010, and 2014 Olympian; 2006 Olympic Champion)
Chandra, the older sister of Rosanna, was born in Canmore and learned to ski on the same trails where she later won a World Cup medal. She is one of Canada’s most influential athletes, having founded an empowerment through sport program to keep girls in sport through their teenage years.
In 2006, Chandra won the hearts of people around the world for her passionate singing of the national anthem from atop the podium at the 2006 Torino Olympics. But she didn’t stop winning hearts then; she won the heart of her husband (or perhaps more accurately, he won her heart) when she tested his “date-ability” by taking him down Delirium Dive, Sunshine Village’s most challenging off-piste terrain.
While dreaming of standing on top of a podium and singing the nation’s anthem is as close as most of us will ever get to becoming an Olympic Champion, you can rest assured that you don’t have to be an Olympian to train like one. And the best part is, you don’t have to limit the post-recovery pints for calorie counting if you don’t want to.
Train like an Alpine Skier:
Wake up early to beat the crowds at the ski hill and work on your speed as you race down freshly groomed runs. If you are in Lake Louise, ski the same courses used by Downhill and Super-G athletes during the Audi FIS Ski World Cup; the faint blue lines marking the course are visible long after the world’s best are racing elsewhere. Grandi recommends the runs off the Summit Platter on the front side of Lake Louise where there is steep, fall line skiing—it’s a showoff run, and “when it’s good, it’s super fun.”
After skiing, make sure that you replenish expended calories with food that fills you up, because you’re going to have to hit the gym later in the afternoon to work on strength and balance. Then, get a massage. Sage advice from recovery guru, Jodi Perras, explains the benefits of massage here.
–> Want to read about ski hills in the area? Check out our Ski Guide
Train like a Cross Country Skier:
When it comes to cross country skiing, technique work is essential. Chandra recommends that you book a ski lesson with a certified instructor from Trail Sports so that you feel as comfortable as possible on your skis.
After your lesson, head out on the ski trails at the Canmore Nordic Centre and ski to the Chandra Crawford Hut where you can eat your packed lunch in a warm space. The Bagel Co. can make you a hearty lunch for ski days, and Beamer’s Coffee (120, 737 – 7th Ave, Canmore) makes muffins large enough to feed an entire family.
Train like a Biathlete:
Europeans love watching biathlon in the same way that Canadians love watching hockey. Train for adoring fans by getting a lesson on the shooting range with Try Biathlon before you put in time on your skis. Want to get some practice at home? Try doing 30 pushups as fast as you can before you successfully thread a needle five times in a row. Controlling your heart rate and breathing is something you will put into practice on the range.
Make sure that you punctuate your workouts with coffee. Biathletes have an affinity for good brew (it’s the perfect pre-workout beverage) and you’re likely to rub shoulders with a few of Canada’s best in one of the local coffee shops.
Train for Curling:
We didn’t interview any Olympic curlers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t rent a sheet of ice at the Fenlands Rec Centre or at the Canmore Golf & Curling Club, and train to win. In Jasper, Pyramid Lake Resort clears the ice on the lake so you can practice curling in the most Canadian way possible: with logs. See our other suggestions for Pyramid Lake activities on p xxx.
Reward yourself with a good meal or drink post-workout. The new Folding Mountain Brewing can replenish your calories in liquid form and with solid fare from their kitchen. If you’re in the mood for seafood, make sure to visit Fiddle River to fuel up on healthy Omega-fats from fish.
However you choose to ring in the new Olympic cycle, be it by your own athleticism or by raising a glass to your favourite athletes, do it with pride and cheer. Dust off your party shoes and give Hidy and Howdy (the Calgary ’88 mascots) a run for their square dancing money as you celebrate the excitement of PyeongChang.
Author: Nicky Pacas