Manuel Osborne-Paradis spent much of last World Cup season battling from the back of the pack. Two other Whistler Mountain Ski Club alums are preparing to do the same this winter.
Osborne-Paradis and the rest of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team's speed crew will kick off the season at home this weekend at Lake Louise, with the first downhill of the Olympic year going Nov. 30 and the first super-G on Dec. 1.
Fellow local products Conrad and Morgan Pridy also appear poised to kick off their campaigns at the lone Canadian stop on the tour as both look to take the next steps in their blossoming careers.
After missing nearly two full years to injury, the 29-year-old Osborne-Paradis was faced with start numbers well outside the top 30 for most of the 2012-13 campaign, but quickly regained the form that's helped him to three World Cup victories and nine podium finishes in her career.
And that total of top-three results very nearly reached double digits. He was one-hundredth of a second from the bronze-medal position at Kvitfjell, Norway, in the second-last downhill of the season. He was leading by three-tenths at Val Gardena, Italy, in mid-December before catching an edge and settling for seventh. And if the helicopter that was supposed to pick him up for a restart at Wengen, Switzerland, hadn't forgotten him, Osborne-Paradis might have finished his season even higher than 13th in the downhill standings.
"There were a couple of heartbreak races," Osborne-Paradis told Pique on Nov. 22 from Calgary. "But all in all, finishing 13th on the year, with my start numbers and the battling (from the back), gives me the confidence that with good start numbers, there's no reason why I shouldn't be better, first of all, and also why I can't be on the podium in and out of every race.
"That's kind of where my race prep has gone — figuring out how to be fast every weekend."
Ski fans saw a lot of that from Osborne-Paradis in the years leading up to the last Olympics. Between the 2008 and 2010 seasons, Manny, as he's affectionately known, never finished lower than sixth in the World Cup downhill standings. His best ranking, fourth in 2010, came the same year that Erik Guay captured the super-G Crystal Globe.
It's that level of competitiveness that Osborne-Paradis wants to see the Canadians return to in the speed disciplines.
"We need to get back to that stride we had in '07, '08, '09, where it was podiums almost every weekend," he said.
The team seems positioned to get back there, if only because it's the healthiest it's been in years. Though Guay had knee surgery in the summer, the former world champion is quickly getting back up to speed. Whistler's own Robbie Dixon is back after missing all of last winter with a broken leg and is aiming for a return this weekend.