LAC-ETCHEMIN, QUE. (July 16, 2012) — Canadian Alpine Ski Team star Marie-Michèle Gagnon has joined the fight to save her local ski hill by pledging to invest in a community initiative to rescue Station de Ski Mont-Orignal, Que., from potential closure.
The 23-year-old, a rising star on the World Cup circuit who secured the first podium of her career last season, grew up skiing on the slopes of the hill at Mont-Orignal and recently had one of the main runs, “Pitch à Mitch,” named in her honour.
Gagnon, who is from nearby Lac-Etchemin, Que., is among 44 investors who have come forward to pledge money to the cause. Four more are needed to come up with $25,000 each by Sept. 1 to finance the purchasing of equipment.
“It’s a small hill but this was my playground growing up. It’s the one thing young people in town have to do in the winter – it’s so important we keep it open,” said Gagnon from Lac-Etchemin, where she is spending time at home before leaving for a ski camp in Zermatt, Switzerland.
“A lot of people have already come forward – mostly people in the community and from surrounding towns who ski here and a lot of young people too, which is cool. We just need four more.
“I was really lucky to grow up here on this ski hill. I’m pretty sure my parents wouldn’t have been able to afford to take me to another hill and I probably wouldn’t have become a skier.”
Gagnon is one of the most promising athletes to emerge from a new generation of female Canadian skiers who have begun to make a name for themselves at the highest level. In addition to Gagnon recording her first World Cup podium last season, her teammate Erin Mielzynski, of Guelph, Ont., became the first Canadian since 1971 to win a gold medal in slalom. While most of the ladies’ team excels in the technical disciplines – slalom and giant slalom – Gagnon is an all-round talent who is expected to compete in more super-G and even downhill events in the years to come.
“It’s been a really good summer of training in Canmore (Alta.) and Calgary,” said Gagnon of the centralized ladies’ dryland program, which is led by conditioning coach Matt Jordan. “It’s been nice to be back in Quebec (in the last week) and to have all these summer days – it’s really warm here. It’s not always the best temperatures for training but I’m looking forward to getting back on snow (in Zermatt). It looks like we’ll be doing some slalom, giant slalom and super-G training – so, a bit of everything!”
The Mont-Orignal ski resort is located about 90 kilometres from Québec City. Mont-Sainte-Anne, Que., is a drive of about one hour and 45 minutes away from Gagnon’s hometown. Lac-Etchemin is just a stone’s throw away – about 10 kilometres - from Mont-Orignal.
“As a child I would go to Mont-Orignal every day it was open,” Gagnon said. “It would be open Wednesday afternoons, Fridays and weekends. I used to be there at opening time and stay right up until it closed.
“It’s crazy thinking about it now, with all the places I’ve skied since, but I used to go out of bounds – I had so much fun there. It’s so good for kids to have somewhere to go.”
Gagnon said the future of the ski area is under threat because the owner wanted to sell. Although the group hoping to save the ski area missed an initial July 4 deadline to secure funding, Gagnon said the owner agreed to give the group more time because they were so close to securing the necessary funds. According to reports, a committee needs to raise an initial total of about $1.2 million.
“The people involved have some really good ideas about how to make (the resort) even more fun,” Gagnon said. “It’s open three to four months of the year and it’s always been an affordable place to ski but there’s a few mountain bike trails and I’m really going to push to develop them.”
Gagnon, who is the most famous skier to have emerged from Mont-Orignal, features prominently on the ski resort’s website and in their promotional material. The slope named in her honour is the main run under the chairlift.
“I heard over the winter that they might have to close it. I followed everything while I was away and when I came home I met with the head guy and decided it would be a good idea to (join in),” Gagnon said. “So I’m (potentially) going to be a part owner!”
Following the camp in Zermatt, a second national women’s team camp is planned in New Zealand later in the summer. The 2012-13 World Cup season is due to get underway in Sölden, Austria, in October.
To read more about Gagnon’s summer, check out her website at http://www.mariemichelegagnon.com/.
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