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Switzerland's Suter claims Lake Louise women's super-G, Gagnon in top 10

LAKE LOUISE — Corinne Suter finally stood atop the podium and Canada's Marie-Michele Gagnon regained some confidence in Sunday's World Cup super-G in Lake Louise, Alta.
Switzerland's Corinne Suter skis the course during the women's World Cup super-G ski race in Lake Louise, Alberta on Sunday Dec. 4, 2022.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

LAKE LOUISE — Corinne Suter finally stood atop the podium and Canada's Marie-Michele Gagnon regained some confidence in Sunday's World Cup super-G in Lake Louise, Alta.

After finishing second and third in two downhills, Switzerland's Suter laid down a winning time of one minute, 20.75 seconds on the 2.5-kilometre track for her first career victory in Lake Louise.

"Finally," the reigning Olympic downhill champion said. "I was dreaming a lot of Lake Louise because I like to be here so much, but I never was the first one. I'm super-happy with my run today. 

"Two or three mistakes, but when you're fast, it happens."

Austria's Cornelia Huetter in second was just two hundredths of a second back of Suter. 

Huetter was third in Friday's season-opening downhill, but sat out Saturday's race with concussion symptoms stemming from a crash last season.

Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway placed third Sunday in 1:20.91. Italy's Sofia Goggia fell short of a second straight Lake Louise sweep in fifth after winning both downhills.

Gagnon's confidence was bruised after struggling with the course's icy patches and finishing outside the top 20 in both downhills.

The 33-year-old from Lac-Etchemin, Que., rallied Sunday to place eighth for her best career result in Lake Louise.

"It feels like a small victory today," Gagnon said. "My confidence kind of took a hit and to be able to do this today, is a very decent result.

"If I had come into today with some confidence then I think I could have been really dangerous for podium contention, but this is really nice."

A top-30 result is coveted because that is where World Cup points and prize money are. Points contribute to ranking, which in turn determines start position at subsequent races. 

A top-30 start bib is considered an advantage over later starters because the course is in more pristine condition.

Each women's World Cup race in Lake Louise offered 120,000 Swiss francs (C$172,000) split between first to 30th on a descending scale. 

The winner earned 45,000 (C$65,000).

Super giant slalom, or super-G is a speed event of sweeping turns on a shorter course with less altitude drop, but similar velocity to downhill.

Sunday's race was held in brilliant sun and temperatures of — 12 C. Trees casting dark shadows over the course made racers travelling at speeds of 110 km/h feel like the lights were switching on and off.

Valerie Grenier of St-Isidore, Ont., finished just outside the top 30 in 31st.

The 26-year-old was a super-G standout before badly breaking her leg in downhill training at the 2019 world championship in Are, Sweden. 

She'd placed fifth in Lake Louise's super-G to start that season, and was fourth in Cortina, Italy, less than a month out from the world championship.

Grenier has since concentrated on giant slalom while gradually building back to speed events. She stepped into the super-G start gate Sunday in Lake Louise for the first time in four years.

"The course itself could have been really fun. It was a cool course and the hill was perfect," Grenier said. 

"It's my first race back in a little bit and all of a sudden when I started skiing I felt like I didn't know how to ski. I wasn't really feeling like myself."

Toronto's Candace Crawford placed 35th on Sunday.

Lake Louise has been a regular stop on the men's and women's World Cup downhill circuits for over 30 years, and the traditional opener of the men's and women's speed seasons in late fall.

The future of the races in Banff National Park is unclear.

The introduction of women's World Cup giant slaloms in Mont-Tremblant, Que., from 2023 to 2025, and falling on the same traditional weekend as women's speed races in Lake Louise, makes it unlikely Canada will retain the only women's downhill in North America at least in the near future.

"We have an amazing women's tech team and they never get a chance to ski at home," Alpine Canada chief executive officer Therese Brisson said Sunday. 

"We have an amazing ski community in the east that never has a chance to see World Cup ski racing, so we want to make sure we addressed that. We're delighted to add that event next year in Mont-Tremblant for the women."

Alpine Canada has committed to keeping a men's speed race in Western Canada with Lake Louise a "lead option" if some changes are made to its financial operations, Brisson said.

Snow-making costs and the resort's isolation requiring race workforce and fans to travel there from outside the park are among the issues.

"There are some challenges in the operating model. Big challenges. Challenges if we don't get on top of, we have to bring the (ski) team home in January, and we just can't do that" Brisson said.

"We have to change the way we operate if we're going to be successful. I'm optimistic we'll be able to land all the business transformations and changes that need to happen.

"All the stakeholders, I'm pleased to say, want to have a race and are open to change and transformation, which is going to be required."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press