U16 Europe Project Reflections

By: Gavin Preziosi, Provincial Program Director

Nathan Sylvester (SUNSH), Gered Thompson (KASC), Caleb Brooks (LLSE), Sara Paradis (CARC), Polly Lang (KASC) and Julia Culig (CARC) returned last week from a successful European campaign as they were abroad representing their clubs, AASA and Canada with Milan Arsovski (KASC) and Gavin Preziosi (AASA) leading the way through 2 International Children’s FIS races in Slovenia and Croatia. Let’s be honest, Milan led the way given the fact he can speak 7 languages, has greater navigation skills than our GPS units and hails from the region.

While the trip was sure to give the athletes some European ski racing exposure, it turned out to be the other lessons learned along the way and the ones we have all brought back to Alberta that truly made this experience one for the books. I’ll get back to those once I’ve recapped what little I can in one page and their performances.

Pokal Loka (Trophy Loka) was the first race held at Stari Vrh, Slovenia and boy do they know how to put on a race. We had full World Cup prep on the only slope with snow on the entire mountain. Needless to say, when we rolled into the parking lot I was skeptical as to how the heck we were expected to race, but as it turns out, 6 inches of ice, and hammer drill friendly dirt underneath is all you need to run a great race that held up for 275 athletes without putting a dent in it. I must also add that gates do not pop out when drilled straight into the earth but wouldn’t recommend cutting back on our snowmaking as getting them out is an absolute nightmare.

Oh right, the results, while we weren’t able to walk away with any awards that included handmade stools we did show that we belong on the world stage as the athletes achieved some world class competitive runs and it was nice to see that as a province we are tracking with the rest of the ski racing world through U16.

At the end of that series and all you can eat burgers while on hill it was time to make tracks back to Zagreb to the world famous Snow Queen track on Sljeme. Unfortunately, the consistent temperature ranging from +10-15 degrees were rapidly getting the better of the track and it was time to engage in some fundamental variable condition racing as the athletes were faced with changing conditions, the only morning of rain and a one run GS race as there just wasn’t enough snow for a second run.

Despite the challenging conditions the Alberta squad was ready to take all lessons learned from Slovenia and put their newly acquired intensity, focus and determination into action. Witnessing the transformation of the athletes in the start was enough to give me chills as they were all going Norge style.

Norge style you say. While in Slovenia rubbing shoulders with the Norwegian U16 A team and Croatia’s up and coming Kostelic like star, the athletes observed the intensity of the top U16s in the world and rather than shy away decided to take that lesson and apply it to their newly acquired routines. “It was like they were going to war each and every time they enter the start gate” said one of the athletes.

Their Canadian imitation of the attacking Vikings certainly paid off in Croatia as the awards started to come in and the objective shifted from competing to winning as they now had the belief that they could in fact win. After all was said and done, our small but mighty team from Alberta walked away with one silver medal, one bronze, two 5th place finishes and one 6th.

When debriefing the trip on our final night in Europe the athletes were asked three questions. What did you learn? What will you bring back to Alberta? And what was the highlight of the trip? To summarize, as most answers were similar, they were happy to see that they were competitive and believed more firmly in their process to date, they all took away that in order to be the best in the world it would require a new level of determination and intensity that only works if you also raise the level of focus to match it and the majority agreed that new found friendships and training in a man’s backyard for 15 euros with a rope-tow meets poma set up with enough vertical for 40 slalom gates were the highlights.

I should also mention the king of the castle race for cakes races and the new found love for cevapi but those tales will have to be shared in person.

Thank you to all the athletes and Milan for a great experience and thank you all for reading.