The road to Whistler will be a long one for every member of the Canadian Alpine Ski team.
To prove the point, they're about to bike it.
As part of a team-bonding/training exercise that also serves as a symbolic journey to the site of the 2010 Olympics, 20 members of the squad will depart Lake Louise this morning for a 10-day, 1,000-km ride to the west coast winter playground.
This following a banner season in which the team won 13 medals and returned Canada to a serious threat on the World Cup circuit.
And while several skiers admit the exercise will be a gruelling test of strength and will, Calgary's John Kucera sees it more as a tribute to his fallen friend, mentor and coach, Jason Lapierre.
"He's going to be rolling with me on this one," smiled Kucera yesterday at COP, where he and his teammates launched their Summerstart Tour of Champions.
"He's a huge part of my life, he's my mentor in the sport and life basically and he's one of my best friends so I think about him a lot. He's the one who actually got me into road biking -- it was his passion -- so it's going to be cool to do this ride."
Lapierre was killed last July while cycling along Hwy 1A outside Cochrane where the 34-year-old was struck by a passing motorist who had suffered a stroke and veered into him. Months earlier Kucera leaned heavily on Lapierre, his former coach at the Calgary Alpine Racing Club, to help rebound from a disappointing showing at the Turin Olympics. Despite missing some of a training camp in Chile to give the eulogy and a nine-minute slide presentation at 'Lapp's' memorial at COP, the Bishop Carroll grad built on his pal's inspiration and guidance to rebound with a breakthrough season on the World Cup circuit. Dedicating his first career win to Lapierre -- a stunning, season-opening win at Lake Louise -- Kucera went on to help the team post its best season in history.
"He's a big part in everything that's happened in my career," said Kucera, 22, whose bike features a sticker with Lapierre's name on it and a front tire formerly used by the longtime coach. He'll also wear an outfit given to him by J-Force Triathlon team, made up of friends honouring Lapierre.
"We did a ride from Jasper to Banff a few years ago with my old club and we spent a chunk of it riding together. I'm sure I'll have some thoughts of him throughout the ride. It'll be emotional on that front, I'm sure, but it'll be good."
Along the way the ski squad will make stops for several community fundraisers including a barbeque and soccer game with the Jasper ski club.
"At first, I was really excited, then I got nervous, then I drove it and got really, really nervous," laughed women's team veteran Emily Brydon.
"It's symbolic because we're taking the road to Whistler but it's more about the dynamics within the team and helping one another work together as a group."
A somewhat surprising member of the road crew is Canmore's Allison Forsyth, who was given medical clearance last week to resume skiing following four knee surgeries stemming from a crash in Turin.
"Don't tell anyone because I have a reputation to uphold but I'm looking forward to the ride," laughed Forsyth, 28, who plans on skiing through 2010.
"It's a life experience and an opportunity to come together as a group. We will be the No. 1 alpine nation in Vancouver and to do that we need to be ridiculously fit."
No one knew that better than Lapierre and his proud student, Kucera.