Julien Cousineau has been through the ringer several times in recent years, sidelined with injuries and recovering from various surgeries. He almost quit at one point, but with a home Olympics on the horizon he decided to stick it out.
It was a pretty good decision. He toughed out the fog in his first run to place 19th, then jumped up to eighth overall with the second-fastest second run of the day.
He said he felt re-energized by the result, and clearly showed it this weekend at Levi, Finland as the slalom season got underway.
The snow was soft for the men's event, and some 30 skiers didn't finish their first run - a DNF group that included Whistler's Mike Janyk, his teammate Ryan Semple, Olympic champion Giuliano Razzoli, Austria's Benjamin Raich, American Bode Miller, French skier Maxime Tissot, and countless other solid contenders. Of the skiers that did qualify for a second run, two didn't finish.
Cousineau used his strength to bear down on his first run in 10th, then had a stronger second run to move up to eighth place.
"I feel really good about this race," he said. "I didn't really know what to expect because we hadn't skied with the other nations so far this year. I know that I was skiing well in training and all I had to do was to ski well during the race. I'm happy because I started exactly where I left off last season, so it's a good start for me and it gives me a lot of confidence for the races to come."
Cousineau said his goal was to be more consistent this season, given that last year was a comeback season from injury.
"I want to be even more constant this year and eliminate bad races," he said. "Obviously I'm looking for a victory but I'm just going to take it a race at a time and aim for a top 15 at each race. If everything comes together like it should, victory should happen - but it's not my main focus."
Showing off the depth of the team, three other athletes earned points in the top 30. Brad Spence placed 16th, Trevor White was 19th and Patrick Biggs was 22nd. White made the biggest jump of the day, squeaking into the second run in the 30th spot before jumping 11 spots with a speedy second run.
The win went to Jean-Baptiste Grange of France, followed by Andre Myhrer of Sweden and Ivica Kostelic of Croatia. Kostelic and Myhrer were second and third in the Olympics.
In the women's slalom the previous day, Marie Michele-Gagnon was the only Canadian in the running. None of the other Canadians - Anna Goodman, who is returning from an injury, and rookies Eve Routhier, Brittany Phelan or Erin Mielzynski - qualified for a second run.
Gagnon ranked 30th after the first run, just 0.02 seconds away from getting eliminated. She made the most of her second run to finish the day in 16th place.
"I was disappointed with my first run so I went into the second run more angry and aggressive," she said. "The conditions... were actually not much better, I just skied the course a lot better."
Goodman was actually on track to possibly qualify for a second run when her pole broke 15 turns in. "It was super awkward after that," she said. "Not exactly the comeback I had anticipated, but I have been feeling really great on my skis and I know that Aspen (next World Cup) will be a whole different story."
Marlies Schild of Austria was first overall, followed closely by Maria Riesch of Germany just three one-hundreths of a second later. Tanja Poutiainen of Finland was third.
The World Cup circuit moves to North America next. The men are racing downhill and super G at Lake Louise from Nov. 24 to 28, while the women are racing slalom and giant slalom at Aspen from Nov. 27 and 28. The women's speed season opens at Lake Louise from Nov. 30 to Dec. 5 with two downhill races and a super G. The men will head to Beaver Creek from downhill, super G and giant slalom.
While Canada has solid medal hopefuls in every race, the Canadian men could look especially good if they land on the podium this month with the men's team growing moustaches for "Movember" - a campaign to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer. Last year the men's team raised $3,000 with their facial hair, and they hope to top that this year.
Visit www.movember.com/ca/member_id/402440/ to donate to the "Men's Canadian Mustache Ski Team."