Casinos, hot springs and great snow 

Giving it all in Austria

By Maëlle Ricker

The countdown to the Opening Ceremonies continues and the Games are closer than ever. February 10 th is now less than a month away, and we are all in Europe finishing up with pre-Olympic World Cup contests.

I’m currently nestled in the small town of Krieschberg, Austria, the site of the 2003 World Championships. I used to loathe coming here. It was notoriously cold, there was never much snow, and the halfpipe wasn’t that great. This time around it is the exact opposite – the snow is bountiful, the weather is gorgeous, and the pipe is perfect. I have found new hope for Austrian winter travel.

This is my second week here, as the snowboardcross team was in Austria for a double event at Bad Gastein. We arrived for New Year’s and had a couple of days to relax before training started.

The casino and hot springs spa hosted the bib draws so the fun started before the competition got under way.

Europe received a lot of snow in December and this trend continued throughout our stay in Bad Gastein. The conditions made for a slow course for the first few days, and waxing was critical and a board technician was mandatory. Luckily for us, JP was there to hook us up. He worked our boards into a pulp.

The effort paid off, even if JP’s arm is now seized up from the amount of brushing he did over the course of the week.

Drew Neilson destroyed the race. He advanced to second place in the World Cup ranking with a gold and silver under his belt. Dominique Maltais was first and second as well and is currently leading the women’s tour. I pulled some weight behind them by placing fourth in the first race and third in the second. Tom Velisek rounded out the medal run by grabbing a bronze on day two of racing.

The unique thing about the race in Bad Gastein was the night final. It’s the first time I’ve ever raced at night.

It isn’t uncommon to have pipe finals at night but never snowboardcross because of the length of the course. The mountain staff did a great job putting up extra lights, which made the visibility as clear as a sunny day on a beach in Bermuda.

We were also spoiled with great food right at the bottom of the hill. A massive tent was erected just for the World Cup. It supplied the riders with wireless Internet, food on demand, and a warm place to hang out between runs.

Jasey-Jay, Dominique Vallee, and I left with our team physio Susan for Krieschberg the day after the night finals while the rest of the snowboardcross team stayed in Bad Gastein to get in some powder turns. They will meet up with Jasey and myself next week in Italy for another snowboardcross event.

The parallel giant slalom was the first contest in Kreischberg. The course looked long and technical, and to make things more difficult there were two delays on the course. That’s uncommon in this day and age at PGS events.

Jasey-Jay was the only Canadian to get a spot in finals. He had a bad start in the first round of racing and ended his day 16th. Alexa Loo had the next best results. She advanced from the first round of qualifying but was unable to sneak into the top 16.

The racers have another chance next week to grab some FIS points in Kronplatz, an Italian resort just south of the Austrian border. This is also the location of the snowbaordcross race.

The halfpipe is underway as I write. I just finished my qualifying round and the men are now battling it out on this sunny Monday afternoon.

Unfortunately none of our girls made it to the next round. Sarah Conrad and a newcomer to the tour, Katie Tsukuki, were the best Canadian women. Dominique Vallée and myself placed somewhere behind them.

Our usual suspect in the women’s final, Mercedes Nicoll, opted to stay in North America and battle with the American girls at the Grand Prix in Oregon.

We have two young Canadian men here, along with Katie Tsukuki. Ontario’s Jeff Bachelor and Calgary’s Kory Wright are throwing down some great runs. Jeff had an amazing day of training yesterday, so hopefully he’ll continue his onslaught of destruction right into the night finals this evening.

Tomorrow the pipe team will fly home for a few rest days before starting our pipe camp in Whistler. We’ll be training in the World Championship pipe on Blackcomb for the last two weeks of January before flying to Torino for the big show.

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