Searching for ski legs

SCOTT MITCHELL, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:20 AM ET

CALGARY - The bones have healed, the ligaments are repaired, the casts are off and the rehabilitation process is, for the most part, complete.

But there’s a lot rust the injury-ravaged Canadian Alpine Ski Team has to shake off when the World Cup season gets underway at Lake Louise this weekend, which means expectations are being tempered early on.

“Realistically, I don’t think it’s in the cards for us this year (at Lake Louise),” head coach Paul Kristofic said of the chances of a podium finish at Canada’s only World Cup skiing event. “If we were to do it, it would be a surprise. But it’s a welcome surprise, for sure.”

The list of skiers that hit the infirmary last season was a long one. And it extended into the summer as a number of the team’s key veterans went through rehab or were prescribed rest that will leave them still trying to find their ski legs.

The fact they were able to be introduced to a cheering throng of students Tuesday at Canada Olympic Park, without crutches, is a win in itself.

Erik Guay, reigning world cup downhill champion and the first Canadian skier to record a podium finish at Lake Louise back in 2003, is recovered from the nagging back injury that limited the 30-year-old native of Mont-Tremblant, Que., but the time off may hinder him early in the season.

“It’s tough to judge at this point, because I’ve spent so much time away,” Guay said. “I could see last week in Colorado that I’m lacking some miles and playing catch-up at this point.

“In January, hopefully, I’ll be on top of my game.

Calgary native Jan Hudec, a winner at Lake Louise in 2007, also spent time resting this past summer with a back injury of his own.

“I’ve felt better, but I’m getting older now, so I don’t know if I’ll ever be exactly how I was when I was young, but I’m smarter and faster and stronger than I was when I was younger,” Hudec said of his health.

John Kucera, who won at Lake Louise in 2006 and took home the overall downhill crown in 2009, is attempting to come back after two years of rehab on a leg the Calgary skier broke at Lake Louise.

Stalwart Robbie Dixon is only now returning to full strength following a serious concussion last December.

Then there’s Manuel Osborne-Paradis. The 27-year-old North Vancouver native won’t be ready for action until the New Year after breaking his leg and tearing his ACL in Chamonix, France, last January and then dealing with an incident during the Calgary Stampede that made headlines after he was dragged 100-metres behind a party bus and ended up in hospital.

It’s been one injury after another for the veterans, which is placing an early onus on the kids.

Louis-Pierre Hélie, of Berthierville, Que., heads into his fourth World Cup season, while Dustin Cook, of Lac Sainte Marie, Que., and Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., will make their second Lake Louise starts. Towering 6-foot-8 rookie Kelby Halbert, of Bradford, Ont., will be making his first run.

“There’s a mix of youth and inexperience, with guys who have won races and are getting to be the senior guys on the circuit,” Kristofic said. “It’s interesting, because you have some clear leaders there and the young guys have good guys to talk to and follow.

“It’s a building process for (the injured skiers), and the young guys are chomping at the bit to score more World Cup points, so it makes for some pretty interesting training days out there.”

The gate drops on the 2011-12 FIS Ski World Cup season with training runs scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The men’s downhill goes Saturday (11:30 a.m.), while the Super-G is Sunday (11 p.m.).

The women’s event goes the following weekend, from Dec. 2 to 4, with Marie-Michéle Gagnon and Madison McLeish leading the Canadian contingent.

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