SESTRIERE, Italy -- Whether it's hopping from rock to rock on dry riverbeds or walking up handrails, Thomas Grandi's training regimen has long involved techniques few others employ.
It also involves good friend, Canmore neighbour and NHLer Andrew Ference.
"He came up with some pretty cool stuff from some of his European coaches," said the Calgary Flames defenceman of Canada's top slalom skier.
"Thomas and I just started riding bikes together, doing the mountain biking thing and a lot of our training was similar, so we kind of borrowed stuff from one another and got to be really good buddies. He's been around a long time and training forever, like
I have. It gets a little stale after a while so we were both open to new ideas."
After meeting Grandi's wife and Olympic medallist Sara Renner at Canmore's Nordic training facility ("when I said I played hockey, she thought I was one of the Canmore Eagles," explains Ference. "I said, 'No I'm a little better than that' "), the two became fast friends and workout partners in search of diversity. So, for the last four years, they've headed into Canmore's crags and canyons to equip themselves for the rigours of their respective sports.
"When Andrew and I met, right away there was a connection as physically we're not the prototypes for our sports. But both have a desire and passion to reach the top no matter what," said the 5-ft. 10-in. Grandi, a legitimate medal contender in tomorrow's giant slalom.
"I think it shows in the way we train."
Slated to race in his fourth Olympic giant slalom, Grandi is well aware the Sises course is highly technical and demands racers are in peak physical condition -- something for which the 33-year-old is primed.
"We really have the same mentality for almost everything," said the diminutive Ference, who visited Grandi in Kitzbuhel, Austria, for a race last season and called it the best sporting event he'd ever seen.
"He's a smaller guy and he's where he's at because of his work ethic and drive, not just because of God's natural gifts. He's had to work for everything. Along the same lines, if I don't work like that in the summer, then I don't have a job."
Supplementing their weight training with activities occasionally made up at the spur of the moment, the two often find themselves sprinting or cycling head- to-head up mountains or winding roads.
"The nice thing is we're at the same level, although he's better at endurance than
I am," said Ference, smiling.
"On the bike, I've got him for the first
45 minutes but he gets me in the end."
After years of unrealized potential, Grandi broke through last season with back-to-back World Cup victories that helped kickstart his wife's success at the world championships.
Arriving in the Athlete's Village yesterday after training an hour away, Grandi, a native of Bolzano, Italy, (400 km away), enters tomorrow's race ranked eighth and hoping to feed off his wife's
cross-country silver won last week.
"Training is one thing but a lot of it is up here," said Ference, tapping his skull.
"He's made a lot of big steps in the last year with winning and just having the confidence to believe he can."