Stefanie Fleckenstein knew she was heading to Lake Louise, Alta. for the FIS World Cup races in some capacity.
As it turned out, it was as a racer.
The 19-year-old Whistler Mountain Ski Club alumnus had been tabbed as a forerunner leading off for some of the world's best, but leading up to the races from Dec. 2 through 4, Alpine Canada Alpin realized they had an extra slot and offered it to Fleckenstein.
"I wasn't actually sure until a few days before. I had heard the coaches say I might be able to (compete) in early October. I heard there might be a spot open for me and then it got confirmed about a week before the races," she said. "I was pretty ecstatic. I was training in Nakiska and they told me basically get packed and ready to go because I was heading over to Lake Louise. It was pretty crazy."
Fleckenstein took a 51st in the first of two downhill races before improving to 48th in the next. She then placed 53rd in the super-G to wrap the week.
"It's pretty incredible getting to ski in front of the home crowd as well as in a World Cup," she said. "It was an amazing learning experience and I'm really happy I got to do it this week."
One might expect a debuting competitor to have some worries before a race, but Fleckenstein said she felt prepared and focused as she stood in the start gate getting ready to go.
"I was actually pretty calm. I wasn't really nervous. I was kind of just looking at it as training the first couple days and then when we actually started racing, I wasn't nervous, I wasn't overthinking it too much. I knew I deserved to be there and I just raced," she said.
As well, Fleckenstein leans toward technical events over the speed ones, so to hold her own on a course with names like Swiss Lara Gut, who won the super-G, and Slovakia's Ilka Stuhec, who won both downhills, was a reassuring feeling.
Fleckenstein isn't aware of any plans to do any additional World Cup races, this year, and is focusing on three weeks of North American Cup racing leading up to Christmas before heading to Europe for Europa Cup action.
"I'm looking to be consistently Top 5 or Top 3 at NorAms over the course of the year and then hopefully get some Top 30s or Top 15s in Europa Cup," she said.
After a summer in which she tackled some problem areas and reinforced her strengths, Fleckenstein feels ready to accomplish her goals.
"It was probably the best summer of training I've ever had. We got some time over in Argentina and then over in Europe as well. There was a lot of time spent in the gym so that we could push for longer camps and ski for more days," she said. "(I was working on getting) stronger and better cardio. I'm on longer tracks now so it's important to have good cardio as well as leg strength and core strength. One of my weaknesses has always been core so we did a lot of ski-specific core exercises over the summer and long cardio sessions."
In the Lake Louise races, Valerie Grenier was steadily the top Canadian, taking 28th and 16th in the downhills and 25th in the super-G. Candace Crawford posted results of 49th and 47th in the downhill races before improving to 39th in the super-G.
The men, meanwhile, were active in Val d'Isere, France, as Canadian Erik Read took a career-best ninth in the giant slalom on Dec. 4, placing 2.50 seconds back of winner Mathieu Faivre of France.
The previous day, Erik Guay had taken a strong result, notching a sixth-place finish in the downhill, 0.97 seconds off Norway's Kjetil Jansrud, who took the triumph. WMSC alumnus Manny Osborne-Paradis was 25th and Jeffrey Frisch placed 53rd.
The Canadians just missed the Top 10 in the weekend's first race, the super-G, with Guay placing 11th and Dustin Cook 13th, while Osborne-Paradis and Read were 37th and 40th, respectively. Jansrud also notched the win.