Valerie Grenier leads young Canadian ski team into Lake Louise World Cup
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The Maple Leaf will be green at the women's World Cup downhills in Lake Louise, Alta.
Valerie Grenier, who turned 20 in October, will be the only Canadian woman with previous World Cup downhill experience at this weekend's season-opening races.
Meanwhile, the winningest woman at Lake Louise is absent because of a broken arm. Eighteen of Lindsey Vonn's 76 World Cup victories have come at the Alberta resort west of Calgary dubbed "Lake Lindsey."
Reigning Olympic slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. will provide some star power, however, when the 22-year-old makes her downhill debut.
A World Cup at Lake Louise was cancelled for the first time when it was deemed not cold enough to make snow for the men's downhill and super-G last week. But the women's event, with downhills Friday and Saturday followed by Sunday's super-G, got the green light.
The recent retirement of Larisa Yurkiw means it could be a few years before a Canadian woman contends for the podium again in speed events. Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., and Erin Mielzynski of Collingwood, Ont., are experienced medal threats in slalom and giant slalom, but they don't race downhill.
Grenier arrived in Lake Louise with more confidence and better health than she possessed a year ago.
The rookie crashed in the first downhill there in 2015, but made it to the bottom the next day to finish 43rd. Grenier also placed 16th in super-G, which is a shorter course with more turns.
The Mont-Tremblant, Que., skier has since won the women's world junior downhill title in Sochi, Russia, and increased her World Cup downhill starts to five.
"For sure starting a lot more World Cup downhills last year helped me a lot," Grenier told The Canadian Press.
"It made my confidence grow for sure. It just makes me feel better on my skis. A lot of learning too. Especially winning the downhill at the world juniors, that was amazing for me. It proved to me that I am good enough."
April surgery on her shins for compartment syndrome allowed Grener to fully participate in off-season dryland and snow camps when she couldn't in 2015.
She's feeling more confident in her strength and preparation heading into Lake Louise this year.
Grenier posted the 14th-fastest time in Wednesday's training session. She was 1.09 seconds behind winner Christina Ager of Austria.
Mikaela Tommy of Wakefield, Que., Toronto's Candace Crawford and Stefanie Fleckenstein of Whistler, B.C., will make their World Cup downhill debuts Friday. The trio finished 62nd to 64th respectively in Wednesday's training.
Canada's ski team grew up competing in slalom and giant slalom races on their club hills, which prepared them for higher levels of racing.
But there isn't enough manpower or real estate to run the longer downhill races at the club level. That makes the step from the developmental circuits to the World Cup intimidating.
"It just takes time to get to that level," Alpine Canada athletic director Martin Rufener explained. "You have to build up confidence."
Added Grenier: "I've been training slalom and GS my whole life, but downhill is still somehow recent for me. Sometimes it can feel like it's not as natural."
She's getting more comfortable whipping down the mountain at 130 kilometres per hour on the longer downhill skis.
"I love it," Grenier said. "I love the feeling of going fast and the feeling over the jumps too. The adrenalin rush you get, it's pretty amazing."
It also takes a full season or two on the World Cup circuit to learn how to race the various courses fast. Grenier feels she has a handle on Lake Louise at least.
"It's definitely an advantage for me that I've been there now," she said. "I know what to expect, where it's high speed and where you've got to be smarter."