SPORTS

Jeffrey Frisch finds and funds a different way to ski race for Canada

11/28/2014 01:12 EST | Updated 01/28/2015 05:59 EST
LAKE LOUISE, Alta. - Left off the Canadian men's ski team this season, Jeffrey Frisch took matters and his ski career into his own hands.

The 30-year-old from Mont-Tremblant, Que., who would have competed for Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics if not for a knee injury, has joined skiers from other countries to form their own professional team.

Frisch was sixth in the lone training run for the season-opening World Cup downhill Saturday in Lake Louise, Alta. The men got one training session in Wednesday before training was cancelled both Thursday and Friday.

"For me, the training is important because you never know what happens," Frisch said Friday. "I've been skiing fast the last little while and had great training this summer. I knew if everything falls into place that's where I belong and that's where I can be."

The mountain parks resembled a shaken snow globe as 50 centimetres fell in 48 hours. That significantly adds to the workload of grooming the course for training runs, so two of the three were called off.

The skies began clearing Friday afternoon, so the first men's downhill of the 2014-15 is expected to get underway Saturday. A super-G is scheduled for Sunday.

Norway's Kjetil Jansrud was fastest Wednesday with Manny Osborne-Paradis of North Vancouver, B.C., second and Frisch sixth.

Frisch needed to be among the top 30 men in the overall World Cup rankings at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season to retain his place on the national team. Despite his first career top- 20 result in a World Cup in Norway, Frisch missed the cut.

In talking with his friend Alexander Koell, an Austrian who races for Sweden, they came up with the idea of forming their own team for the 2014-15 season.

"We were talking and said 'why don't we put a few guys together and try to find a main sponsor and try to create a pro team like it works in Formula 1 or in cycling?'" Frisch recalled. "This is something fairly new in the ski sport, fairly new to everybody.

"I met with the Canadian coaches and said 'If I'm going to work hard this summer and put all my effort and everything into this, will I have the chance to come to Lake Louise and qualify?' They said yes."

So Frisch, Koell, Josef Ferstl of Germany and Yuki Harata of Japan are racing under the banner of Westberg Ski Team. Westberg is a sport health and nutrition company based out of Innsbruck, Austria.

"It was good and important for me to have that support, to have some financial support, to have a company that interested," Frisch said.

"I've been talking to people and there are so many athletes who get kicked out of the national team or don't make the next step and then have to quit and don't have any opportunities.

"I want to keep skiing until I decide I'm done."

Larisa Yurkiw of Owen Sound, Ont., pursued a similar strategy last winter when she was left off the Canadian women's ski team, although she was a one-woman show.

As "Team Larisa", she drummed up her own sponsors to keep racing. Yurkiw met the Olympic qualifying standard and earned her spot on the Canadian team for 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Two days before the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., Frisch was giant slalom training with the Canadian ski team at Nakiska Ski Resort in preparation for the Games.

Before the day was over, Frisch was undergoing surgery on an injured anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. That wiped out his chance of racing in the Olympics.

Subsequent knee surgeries has made retaining his position on the national squad a struggle. The men's alpine team is smaller this winter with just 11 athletes racing both speed and technical events.

Osborne-Paradis, Jan Hudec and Erik Guay, with several World Cup and world championship medals between them, have locked-down positions on the downhill team.

Guay isn't racing in Lake Louise this weekend. The former world downhill champion has delayed the start of his season to recover from a pair of off-season knee surgeries.

Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., Dustin Cook of Whistler, B.C., brothers Conrad and Morgan Pridy of Whistler, Calgary's Tyler Werry and Broderick Thompson of Whistler are also vying to race World Cup downhills for Canada.

Frisch says self-directing his ski career is time-consuming. He doesn't have national-team coaches or support staff booking travel for him or setting up glacier training camps in the summer.

"When you're your own and have to finance your own way, you have to really think about 'OK, does this make sense? Am I flying to Europe right now? Is the weather good? Where am I going to stay?'" he said.

"It's like doing two or three jobs at once. You have to do other things so you can even go ski."

Frisch and his girlfriend Julie Langevin, a former Canadian ski team racer, have an infant daughter named Loah. Frisch was born in northern Italy, but moved to Canada at 18 to race for his mother's native country.

Even though he isn't technically racing under the Maple Leaf this season, Frisch says he still is in his heart.

"The most important thing is everybody will still ski for their country," he said. "We are a team, but your heart is still where your country is. That's how it should go.

"That's how it is with us on our team right now, but obviously it's fun to have different languages on the team. That's pretty interesting."

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