Erik Read has been an up-and-coming athlete for years, ever since he led the Canadian team to wins against other nations at the Whistler Cup races as a 13 and 14-year-old racer. It seems that he's finally here, winning the national downhill slalom title on Wednesday.
Whistler's Mike Janyk, NorAm Cup champion Paul Stutz and national team athletes Phil Brown and Trevor Philp were all on the list of 27 athletes that skied off course in the first run, leaving the competition wide open. Read took full advantage, finishing his two runs of the long course in 1:47.19, a full 0.71 seconds ahead of the B.C. Ski Team's Sasha Zaitsoff. World Cup racer Julien Cousineau, who has struggled this year, was third in 1:48.20.
From Whistler, Ford Swette and Sam Kirshenblatt both finished two runs of the course to rank 18th and 19th.
Winning national championships is a family business for Read, the son of Crazy Canuck Ken Read, winner of multiple national downhill titles, and Lynda Robbins, who won the women's combined title in 1982. Read's grandmother, Dee Burden, took the downhill and combined titles at the Dominion Championship in 1948, and Read's uncle Jim won several titles as well in the 1980s in super G, slalom, giant slalom and combined.
"It's pretty incredible," said Read. "It's been a tough year and to end it this way with weather like this — and this atmosphere — I wouldn't have it any other way and I'm very pleased.
"The first run definitely knocked out a lot of the field and I skied clean and solid the whole way. Second run I knew there were two guys nipping at my heels so I went for it and I think everyone made a few mistakes but I came out on top."
In the women's giant slalom, Marie-Michele Gagnon won her third title of the week, edging out GS specialist Marie-Pier Prefontaine, while speed specialist Larisa Yurkiw picked up her second podium of the week in third. Gagnon now has 10 national titles to her credit, seven short of Canadian ski legend Nancy Greene. Britt Janyk is second on that list with 15.
"The second run was definitely a lot softer," said Gagnon. "It was pretty inconsistent. Some turns were amazing — all of a sudden you were ripping for six turns, then it was really soft and I was hitting the wrong place. I was kind of all over the place but I was letting the skis go and always bringing it down the hill."
From Whistler, Charley Field was 12th, Kelly Steeves 15th, Emma King 20th, Rachel Vander Veen 21st, Rae Swette 23rd and Alysia Kwong 24th.
The technical events marked the end of the national championships.
Nigel Loring of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club said it was a great experience. "We've had beautiful weather, beautiful support from Whistler Blackcomb, the sponsors, all the volunteers, the Weasel Workers. Just an incredible turnout here and it's so great to see the Canadian Championships back here in Whistler. It's a bit of a thrill for myself and Rob Boyd, who actually set the course, to have (a downhill). We've been dreaming about this for a long time."