During his comeback from a catastrophic knee injury, Canadian skier Dustin Cook always considered this year's World Cup in Lake Louise, Alta., the date circled in red on his calendar.
But he feels a last-minute decision to step into the start hut for a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, this past Sunday was the right one.
The 27-year-old from Ottawa raced a World Cup for the first time in 19 months. He was 4.19 seconds slower in Soelden's first GS run than eventual winner Alexis Pinturault of France. The Canadian wasn't quick enough to earn a second run.
Giant slalom, however, isn't his bread and butter race. Super-G is.
Cook won a silver medal at the 2015 world championship in super-G, which combines elements of downhill with the technical demands of giant slalom. He thinks the experience of just putting his race brain back on again can make him faster for the Lake Louise downhill and super-G a month from now.
"Lake Louise has been the goal from Day 1," Cook said Wednesday from Montreal.
"It's kind of like the monkey off your back because now I can go into Lake Louise knowing I've done a race. I felt totally normal. Nerves weren't crazy or anything. It was definitely worth it and it will definitely help in the long run."
Cook had never finished in the top 10 of a World Cup race prior to his world championship medal. He won a World Cup super-G and was third in another before the 2014-15 season ended.
Three days before last year's GS race in Soelden, Cook crashed in training.
He tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee as well as an adductor muscle in his left leg. Surgery and rehabilitation wiped out his entire season.
Cook went to Europe this month intending to just train giant slalom after concentrating on super-G all summer.
He waffled on whether to race in Soelden, but decided in the end to put a race bib on and, as the skiers say, "point'em down."
"I was like 'you know what? I feel good enough. I'll just go into this as an easy mental training exercise," Cook said.
"I would have preferred to do better, but given the amount of training I'd had, it wasn't realistic to expect . . . I was fast on the top, fast on the bottom, but in the middle I just got slaughtered.
"I'm happy to know I felt totally fine. Nerves were in check. Once I got on the hill, I wasn't freaked out and forgot how to ski."
The men get up to three days of training runs before the Lake Louise downhill Nov. 26. They get only a course inspection and no training for super-G the following day.
The Lake Louise super-G two years ago laid the foundation for Cook's breakout season. He was elated to finish 13th, which was his career best to that point.
The silver lining in his injury was Cook had established himself a podium contender prior to it, so money and time was put into his rehabilitation and return to snow.
"If I hadn't had that season, I think things would have been different obviously just because you're not as high profile of an athlete," he said. "I had everything I needed and more. It definitely surpassed expectations."
Cook says he recovered a lot of his form training and racing alongside Canadian team veterans Erik Guay and Manny Osborne-Paradis at summer snow camps in France, Switzerland and Chile.
"I definitely feel I'm not far off from where I was before," Cook said. "I really want to be back on the podium.
"I'd be very disappointed if I wasn't top 10. In my heart of hearts, I'm definitely gunning for the podium. I want to win for sure. I feel it's realistic."