If you bump into Crazy Canuck Ken Read anytime soon, and notice he's got a huge smile on his face, it's probably connected - at least in some part - to the ski racing exploits of his son Erik.
Ken, it seems, is living a father's dream.
Not only is his son following in his footsteps - he's doing it with the same kind of passion, drive and focus that made Read a household name in the world of alpine ski racing during the 1970s and early 1980s.
Read’s description of his son’s technique is eerily similar to his own style of racing, “smooth edge and quiet stance, combined with focus.”
But like most proud fathers, Read the Elder is quick to downplay his past glories when asked to compare himself to his son and the differences in racing today versus the 1970s and 1980s.
“Erik, like all the athletes today, is much more skilled. Today’s racers have better technical development and a far more complete program through support from the service providers in strength & conditioning, physio, nutrition, psychological…; it was easier to move up several decades ago, especially in DH where it made more sense to move directly from Nor-Am to the World Cup. Today, a quota spot must be earned in World Cup and to move past the speed-bump of earning WCSL ranking means a top 30 finish – which often takes several years to gain the experience, strength and maturity. Thus, the importance of patience with these athletes, to give them time to mature, good guidance from their coaches and world-class equipment is something to keep in mind. It may take up to 3+ years to bridge from Nor-Am to World Cup.”
The Reads, if you haven't heard of them before, are one of the first families of Canadian alpine ski racing.
Erik’s Grandmother, Dorothy "Dee" Read, was a Canadian ski racing pioneer successful enough as an athlete and later on as an official to gain entry into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame.
Lynda Robbins, Erik’s mother, was the 1979 GMC Cup overall champion and his father Ken, one of the famed Crazy Canucks, was the first North American male to win a World Cup downhill in 1975. He also won the Hahnenkamm and the Lauberhorn back-to-back in 1980, and like Erik’s Grandmother, is also a member of the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame.
Erik, at 21 is a long way from being a hall of famer, but he's certainly got the right attitude and some pretty decent ski racing talent that may take him there one day too. A true lover of the sport, Read says he races because he loves to go fast and would be doing it even it weren’t the “family business.”
“It’s nice, people recognize the name and say, ‘Oh you’re the son of Ken Read.’ It’s a cool thing, it’s not a hindrance, and it does benefit me. That’s actually the good thing about our family, there’s such a legacy here, but there’s been no extra pressure from my Dad or my Mum. They want me to succeed and I’m loving it and only doing it for myself, not for my family name or anything like that,” says Read.
Crowned the overall Nor-Am champion this past March (as well as overall Nor-Am champ in super combined) "Kindle" as his friends on the Canadian Alpine Ski Team call Read ("Kindle" is an e-book reader available in North America and it's a play on another one of Read's nicknames - e-Reader) is currently prepping for his first season on the World Cup tour.
He took a little time off recently for a little one on one chat…
MM: Erik you booked your ticket to the World Cup next year by winning the overall Nor-Am Cup title this year, are you excited, nervous or both?
ER: Definitely a little bit of both. I’m excited because it’s the next big step in my career and nervous at the same time because it’s such a huge step. It’s going, the World Cup is not as forgiving as some of the races you have out here. I think next year will be a transition year, so hopefully I’ll be doing a mix of World Cup and Nor-Ams and it’ll help me make the full leap into World Cup.
MM: You’ve won Nor-Am races in super-G, giant slalom and super combined, and even took the super combined Nor-Am title last season. Can you see yourself as an all-event racer on the World Cup someday?
ER: Definitely, I still enjoy doing all the events. My coach and I both think that most of our team will have the skills. A little extra downhill training will keep me on my feet and I definitely think I’ll end up doing all the events.
MM: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned on the Nor-Am circuit that you’ll take with you to the World Cup tour next season?
ER: You have to make every race count which is what I learned right at the end of the season when it came down close to the Nor-Am title. Every single run matters. You can never give up, mistakes happen, injuries happen, you have push through them and make the most of your situation by being diligent and then all you can do is hope for the best.
MM: What’s the plan for next season, full-time on the World Cup or will you mix it up with some Europa Cup and Nor-Am races?
ER: It’s kind of a general plan. Our coach is pushing to get that mix of World Cup and Continental Cup. You see all these guys push for World Cup and it’s tough to get the results there and things don’t always go the way you planned. If things are going we’ll keep doing World Cups and if they’re not, we’ll go back to Nor-Ams to get some results and to build confidence and make another push.
MM: You made your World Cup debut in Schladming, Austria in January 2011 at the famous night slalom held there. Did you take anything away from that experience that will come in handy this upcoming season?
ER: I went down and never had a crowd of 50,000 people watching me before, now that I’ve seen that I’ve seen the full deal and I think I’ll be less nervous and more excited to be in that atmosphere. I’ve got the taste for it now and I’m excited to keep going and have some more chances at it.
MM: Your Dad Ken won the downhill in Schladming in 1978, what did it feel like racing World Cup on the same hill?
ER: Actually the really cool part of the whole story is that we took a trip to Europe the spring before and we actually went to Schladming to check out the hill and my Dad was saying, “You know you could be racing here in six months,” and sure enough it was my World Cup debut. I really like the hill and it a continuation of my Dad’s legacy. He’s had success there so maybe I’ll have success there someday too.
MM: Did your Dad give you any advice; did he share any Schladming stories with you?
ER: The only thing he told me was to have fun, relax and to really enjoy the moment.
MM: Your Dad raced with a group of racers nicknamed The Crazy Canucks, have you ever seen video of his old races? Do you think the nickname was fitting?
ER: I think so. The only video I’ve seen is of these bumpy, gnarly courses and they’re just hucking themselves down the hill doing whatever it takes so I think it’s a very fitting name.
MM: The current generation of Canadian racers is called The Canadian Cowboys, if you had to come up with a nickname for the next generation of Canadian World Cup racers, what would it be?
ER: I think we will have to wait and see what kind of character this next generation brings onto the circuit. However, the Canadian Cowboys are still a very big part of this team and I think the name will stick for a while because of their continued success.
MM: Speaking of nicknames, you go by Ricky Read amongst your friends, but Mike Janyk tells me his nickname for you is “Kindle” because it’s an e-reader and it kind of matches your first initial and family name...thoughts on this?
ER: I actually like it. It’s got that kind of catchy connection. Mike Janyk is really pushing for it and it’s starting to catch on. I’ve started to hear, “Go Kindle,” out of the start gate. It’s starting to stick and I’ll probably answer more to “Kindle” than “Ricky Read” now.
MM: Do you actually have an e-reader? Is it a Kindle? Do you read much when you have time off?
ER: I don’t, I still like the feeling of a real book in my hands and I’m not super tech-savvy (he laughs).
MM: Have you ever read your Dad’s book White Circus about life on the World Cup tour during the 1970s? If yes, what did you think of it?
ER: I’ve had a lot of pressure from him to read it (he laughs) but I haven’t read it. And actually I’ve had a lot of friends ask me if I’ve read and I’m always answering, “No, no,” (he laughs). It’s been on my “to do” list for years.
MM: Have you had vacation time since the end of the ski season?
ER: In May we took a family trip to Austria. It was an amazing trip. Despite some new snow and rain at the beginning, the weather cooperated and made for some incredible European scenery. We actually hiked part of the Schladming track on one of our hikes, it’s was great to get a feel for the hill since this year I have the opportunity to try and qualify. Kitzbuhel was the highlight of the trip however. My whole family and I hiked the Hahnenkamm with the Chief of Race (Peter Obernauer) and the President of the Kitzbuhel ski club (Dr. Michael Huber). Between the two of them and my Dad we got a lot of inside information and some cool back-stories to the race which has so much history. We learned about the two sections that the race is won or lost, and how to approach a few turns. It's almost scary to see how steep the hill is in a few spots and imagine throwing yourself down the slope. One of the funnier stories we heard was about Hansi Hinterseer as a young boy crashing minutes before the race began with a pack full of wursts and losing them all over the track while the forerunners were in the gate. He was able collect them all except for one and returned to the restaurant midway down the hill. Another Interesting thing was seeing the damage the twister caused since I last hiked the hill two years ago. When we got to the top they let us in the start hut and we all had some Schnapps (of course). Seeing the legacy of the race all over the start hut is truly inspiring and looking down at the Mausefalle gives you shivers down your spine. All in all it was a cool experience that hopefully pays off someday with a trip down the hill myself.
All photos private
Erik looking out of the Kitzbühel start house
The Reads visiting Kitzbühel