By Justin Brisbane, Rocky Mountain Outlook January 22, 2015

Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta

In 1952, country legend Gene Autry sang of the Blue Canadian Rockies and how the shores of Lake Louise called to him across the ocean.

Sixty-four years later, Cross-Country Canada believes that lake will have the same pull on the world’s best ski racers.

Testing out the future 2016 Tour de Canada ski venue, Kevin Sandau edged Brian McKeever by a mere three seconds to win the open men’s 10 kilometre race in 26:25 on Thursday (Jan. 15). Sun reflecting off Victoria Glacier, framed by bluebird skies, provided the perfect backdrop for the event, which snaked through loppet-like trails and finished on the historic lake.

“It’s such a different course than what I’m used to. It’s not like Canmore or any other world cup trails. It’s a lot more roly and skis like a loppet course or a rec trail, like Kananaskis country,” Sandau said.

The win was another strong NorAm result and he hopes to start the race next year against world cup racers. Sandau was tempted to double pole the entire course, but instead decided to use grip wax to climb up the hills. McKeever used skate skis for better gliding.

“In the end, I decided to go with classic skis. If this was a world cup, the top 20 guys would double pole the course, no question,” Sandau said. “It seemed to be more hilly than when I skied it on Wednesday. Halfway through I was really glad I was on classic skis. My arms would have been fried by four kilometres in.”

He’d prefer if there were more hills on the course, and believes there could be another route chosen. Next year, the athletes will do two laps of the same course, which could affect strategy.

“It may be too flat for the tour next year. I tend to agree. I want to classic ski. I don’t want to double pole,” Sandau said.

Michael Somppi finished third in the 10 km. Peter Hicks was the top junior man.

Sandau wants to earn another shot overseas, and says he’ll have to simply “ski fast” to make that happen.

“Today’s a good day for skiing fast. I think the B tour world championships is far fetched, but maybe I can catch another B tour and world cup,” Sandau said.

Emily Nishikawa won the women’s 10 km classic in decisive fashion, earning a 38-second victory over Perianne Jones. Dahria Beatty finished third. Annah Hanthorn was the top junior women’s racer.

It was Nishikawa’s third straight NorAm win and another accolade in a great season – she’s already cracked the top 30 once on the world cup this year. She found the course much more difficult than she expected.

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