A former Canadian ski champion — and Castlegar resident — was recently honoured at an international skiing event in Switzerland.
Felix Belczyk and his wife were invited to Wengen, Switzerland in January to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Lauberhorn ski race — one Belczyk won back in the 1980s.
Wengen sounds like just what you’d picture a Swiss skiing resort to be like — a tiny mountain village only accessible via a mountain cogwheel train.
“Moving the luggage from the car to the train platform brought back the first strong memories of my Wengen World Cup days,” says Belczyk, who now runs the Spiritleaf cannabis store in Castlegar. “Seeing the old station, watching the train approach, and the scent of the Wengen air stirred up powerful emotions. I knew it was just the beginning of an amazing weekend.”
Famous for its ski race since the 1930s, the Lauberhorn downhill course was quite familiar to Belczyk, who won the event in 1988.
“The Lauberhorn race was moved to Leukerbad that year when snow conditions were too poor to hold the races in Wengen,” Belczyk recalled. “My attire for the festivities [this year] included a pair of skis used during the races that year, and I chose to wear my Calgary Olympic clothing. I think the outfit went over well.”
The challenging course (it has a Canadian Corner, named for a portion of the course where Canadian athletes spectacularly wiped out in the past) pushes skiers‘ abilities, says Belczyk.
“The alpine combined is a race with a shortened downhill run and a single slalom all in the same day,” he says.
It combines the skills of speed and turning and a medal is presented. But generally it is not held in the same esteem as the real downhill or slalom.
“But the young Canadian team is still getting its feet wet, so any experience on the course is valuable. Two of the guys crashed (not hurt), and others made big errors so their ultimate position is not important,” he says.
Despite the Canadians’ challenges, Belczyk says it was a wonderful experience.
On Saturday night at the event center stage in downtown Wengen, and in front of 3,000 race fans and Swiss TV, race organizers presented all the former World Cup Lauberhorn winners.
“During the bib draw that evening, they introduced all the ‘legends,’” he recalled. “Many of the previous winners of the Lauberhorn trophy were introduced on stage including Peter Muller, Kyle Rasmussen, Marcus Wassmeier, Didier Defago, Roland Collombin, Ken Read, and many others.
“It was fun to see old friends and meet the legends I only knew from reputation.
“We wore clothing and carried skis from our era,” Belczyk added. However, “we did not race or get on the course which would be akin to letting an old Formula One racer drive a current race car.”
Seeing former rivals was fun and stirred up many old stories.
“A lot of the memories had to do with the celebrations after the race!” he quipped.
Belczyk and his wife enjoyed priority access to the course, visited and met the Canadian team members, and generally were given the VIP treatment the whole weekend. He says it’s an experience he won’t soon forget.
“I want to thank the Wengen World Cup organizing committee for the extraordinary hospitality during our stay,” he says. “Not only did they put on another world-class event, they provided us with an amazing experience that included skiing, events, accommodation, along with the opportunity to share memories with old racing friends.”