While Canada's alpine skiers have been busy breaking team records in recent years, the team has a few obvious soft spots. Looking at medals won over the last few seasons, almost all have been in the speed events, downhill and super G, with a few medals in slalom courtesy of Thomas Grandi and Whistler's Michael Janyk. The women's technical team has struggled to finish in the top-30, while neither the men's or women's team has had much success in the giant slalom or combined events.
Things appear to be turning around, if results at the World Cup season opener at Soelden, Austria are any indication. Jean-Philippe Roy of Quebec placed ninth on Sunday with a combined time of 2:24.03 after two runs - just over a second back of a spot in the top five.
Two other Canadians also managed to crack the top-30, with Whistler's Robbie Dixon 16 th and Francois Bourque - fresh off the injury list - placing 28 th . Brad Spence, Jeffrey Frisch and John Kucera did not qualify for a second run.
Roy was happy with the result.
"I knew that I needed to start good and keep on pushing," he said. "I ended up being a lot faster than I thought I was going to be."
Roy was seventh after the first run, and dropped two spots with a case of nerves.
"I knew I had a good chance to make a top five or something, but at the same time I didn't want to throw it all away. I wanted to have a good time. We don't have that many races in (giant slalom) before (the Olympics in) Vancouver," he said. "After 10 years I am just as nervous as I was on the first day. I am just better now at managing it."
Veteran Didier Cuche of Switzerland took the win, with Ted Ligety of the U.S. second by more than half a second. Carlo Janka of Switzerland was third.
The first day of racing, on Saturday, was a women's giant slalom. No Canadians qualified for a second run with Marie-Michele Gagnon coming closest in 33 rd position. Only the top-30 skiers after the first run get a second run.
Marie-Pier Prefontaine and Shona Rubens finished their first runs but were not fast enough to move on, while Whistler's Britt Janyk did not finish.
Tanja Poutiainen of Finland took the win by just one-hundredth of a second over Kathrin Zettel of Austria. Denise Karbon of Italy was third.
While Canada's technical skiers were in Austria, members of the speed team made their annual pilgrimage to Warren, Michigan to test equipment and form at the General Motors Aerodynamics Laboratory. Jan Hudec and Tyler Nella worked on positioning exercises and made other tests in the wind tunnel, which simulates air flow at speeds well over 100 km/h.
"I have been fortunate to work with GM staff in the wind tunnel a few times now," said Hudec, a 2007 world championship silver medalist who is making a comeback after being injured last season. "I feel like I have learned a lot about positioning, about finding the position that works best for me.
"The sport is so competitive that you have to be searching for the small adjustments that will make you faster than everyone else. We are all seeking the hundredths of a second that will put us on the podium."
Next up for the team is a pair of men's and women's slalom races at Levi, Finland on Nov. 14 and 15. As well, Whistler's Michael Janyk will compete in an invitational dual slalom race in Moscow on Nov. 21.
The annual Lake Louise Winterstart races get underway on Nov. 28 and run through Dec. 6 with the first men's and women's speed events of the season, both downhill and super G.