Before the official First Run at Panorama Mountain Resort, before the public queues for day tickets, ski rentals and French fries in the cafeteria, Panorama has more of a cozy college campus vibe than the usual bustle of a busy ski resort. Small groups of friends sprawl in the main dining room in matching uniforms swapping stories. Plates teem high with hot buffet meals, or brown bag lunches sit opened. Outside, lineups are nonexistent and skiers do lap after amazing lap with the mountain practically to themselves.
This is pre-season at Panorama, a global village of athletes all preparing for the upcoming race season.
From young skiers hitting the racing realm for the first time to Olympic athletes carved into model skiers after years of racing on the world stage, more than 50 teams take their training to the slopes here before Panorama’s official opening day and throughout the season. Last weekend alone, more than 600 athletes descended on the mountain, for training and also a FIS Men’s Super G race held on Friday, November 22nd.
Some teams have been coming to train at Panorama for years. Camille Dion, Panorama’s racing events and competitions coordinator, figures about 90 per cent of the teams at Panorama this year are returning teams. But there are some new ones too, such as the Slovenian national ski team, which came with six athletes and nine staff. Head coach Grega Koštomaj said after training a couple years at nearby Nakiska, they decided to try and move to some other slopes prior to the FIS Lake Louise World Cup race.
“We heard some good rumours that here is also pretty good – good terrain,” Mr. Koštomaj said. “Now actually, it’s our first day … we are pretty happy with that decision.”
As a team focused on speed, Mr. Koštomaj said, “We are looking for wide and longer courses, which we can get here.”
The national Russian team also brought their high-speed athletes to Panorama for pre-season training. They just got off their first morning of skiing at Panorama when interviewed by the Pioneer.
“It’s nice weather, nice slope, and nice people,” said the Russian team’s assistant coach Aleksandra Kupreichik.
Ms. Kupreichik said the long slopes at Panorama and the history of fast athletes coming from this area made it a good fit for the Russian team to try out this year. They were enjoying the camaraderie found at the resort so far and said they would certainly consider coming back again next year.
“A lot of additional teams come here, and we can [do] training together,” she commented.
Other teams have made Panorama an annual pilgrimage, such as the Southern Ontario Division (SOD) Ski Team, a FIS alpine program that gathers the best young athletes in the region.
“It’s good to come to Panorama and train the hills we’re going to be racing on,” says 16-year-old racer Kate Sellery, who is in her first year on the SOD FIS team. “It’s nice to get a feel of the terrain and what the snow is like, which is really good to get a step ahead of some of the others we’re racing against.”
SOD women’s coach Jenn Warren said 21 athletes from the SOD team are currently training at Panorama.
“It’s a different level of skiing for these guys, so they’re exposed to a lot more – different hills, different terrain, different kids at this level,” Ms. Warren said. “To be able to come here in November is amazing: the snowmaking, the way they prepare the training hill – it’s just so, so good. You can’t really beat it.”
The younger athletes who train at Panorama not only get the benefit of Panorama’s tracks, but they practice, eat, and live right in the same village as world-class athletes.
“For the first year FIS athletes to be training next to their idols, like national teams, is pretty amazing,” said Ms. Warren. “It’s good for our kids to watch these guys train: the way they focus, and the pace of their training sessions – it’s a good learning experience for all our athletes.”
Clarissa Amaro, media marketing and customer relations at Panorama Mountain Resort, has seen that overlap’s positive outcome too.
“For a lot of younger athletes I think that’s the key. They see the professionalism of these athletes they look up to. They get to race on tracks that are the same … They get to see these races that happen here, which are very high caliber. They’re taking away a lot about the process of becoming professional,” Ms. Amaro said.
Ms. Amaro explained that Panorama staff have been working hard, especially over the last few years, to make the resort a top training facility. From specialized requirements for international teams to offering a safe environment for the youngest skiers, Panorama has opened the doors to pre-season training of all types and stripes. Ms. Dion, who just took on the role of racing events and competitions coordinator for Panorama this year, invited an estimated 300 teams to come train here this year. Other international teams making Panorama a training destination this season include Swiss, French, Chilean, and Romanian, as well as national or more localized teams from the USA, Quebec, Ontario, and B.C., to name a few.
“You’ll see kids as young as 8 .… come with their families and their entourage. Then right now, we’ve got some of the top athletes in the world here,” said Ms. Amaro. “It shows the diversity of terrain that we have, and our ability to cater to all these different types of skiers, whether they’re little Nancy Greene level, all the way up to World Cup racers.”
Outside the Ski Tip Lodge after the Pioneer’s interviews, a cluster of young teammates head to the racks to put on their skis. Over at the lift bottom, a couple racers from the French national team take a breather, while a Russian team member glides past for another ride to the top. And over it all, a perfect bluebird sky paints the backdrop for students and teachers at campus Panorama, class of 2019/20.