Fun or simply foolish?

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

It looks like the Canadian alpine ski team has a new motto.

Which is: "If you can't beat them on the slopes, you can beat the hell out of them later on."

Perhaps that won't be the team's official motto. It's more of a suggestion from moi.

But, still, you have to admire their creativity.

On Thursday, certain brave, perhaps crazed (they are downhill ski racers) members of the team, including 2010 overall World Cup super-G champion Erik Guay, World Cup downhill winner Manuel Osborne-Paradis and 2009 World downhill king John Kucera, participated in "an intense" training session with professional mixed martial arts fighter Nick (The Promise) Ring. (I'm not sure what "The Promise" signifies, although I'm certain the coaches have made Ring promise that he won't maim any of the skiers).

On the surface, it might seem strange that skiers would want to learn how to lock someone into painful submission. On the other hand, thinking outside of the box, in terms of off-season training, is nothing new to the Canadian ski team. It's about finding new and interesting ways to enhance their conditioning.

For years, the national squad attended the Jim Russell Race School in Mont-Tremblant, Que., as a way to fine tune their sense of speed.

"That was terrific," said former national team great Brian Stemmle.

"It simulated the same aspects of skiing to car racing. When I talk to people about skiing, especially when I do commentary on TV, I always refer to how ski racing is like driving a car, with the lines, the speed, the braking and the acceleration."

Stemmle said he was pumped to hear that the current team will be training with an MMA fighter, though he doubts that it's to learn how to beat the crap out of each other.

The Aurora, Ont., native said there's a lot to be learned from embracing other forms of training. During Stemmle's time on the national squad, they did all kinds of out-of-the box exercises, including yoga and some karate training.

Another time, while off-season training at altitude in South America, they played six-on-six rugby.

"It was walking rugby, but it was still full tackle," Stemmle said.

On another occasion, former World Cup champ Rob Boyd took the boys on a long mountain bike trek through the back country around Whistler, B.C., to his family cabin in the mountains. Which was great, until one of the coaches fell off his bike and sliced his thumb open.

That's the kicker. The coaches and athletes want off-season training to be fun but safe at the same time, which isn't always easy to enforce when you're dealing with dare devil athletes in their prime.

"The coaches always said, just don't get injured in dryland, that's the one thing they always emphasized," said Stemmle, who once felt the wrath of his coaches after tearing his ankle while skate boarding in the underground parking lot of the team's hotel in Hintertux, Austria.

This year's squad, after their outing with Ring, will again participate in hockey camp with some former NHL players. In Stemmle's day, the national team didn't officially attend a hockey camp, but the four-time Canadian Olympian did skate with the Edmonton Oilers a few times.

Perhaps the most fun Stemmle and his teammates had was when they were training in Schladming, Austria.

"We'd go up to a hut at the top of the hill in our van and we'd take those wooden toboggans, rodels. We'd have dinner, a couple of beers, a glass of wine, maybe some schnapps and then you'd rodel down," he said.

Stemmle said the race down on the rodels used to get pretty hairy.

"We'd throw firecrackers at each other, you'd have them in your pocket. You'd light one, and throw it behind you if you knew a guy was there," said Stemmle, who injured his wrist on one occasion rodel racing. "I was jammed into a snowbank by Edi Podivinsky or somebody. A few days later I had to have it frozen."

One can only assume that the coaching staff was not amused.

"They were racing too," he said, laughing.

Stemmle said if the ski team did not mix dryland training up, it would get boring and repetitive.

But the question remains. Does rodel racing or playing hockey or training with an MMA fighter really help?

"Who knows?" Stemmle said. "But it was fun. I guess it didn't help me, if you saw any of my stats."

STEVE.BUFFERY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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