People and Places

Warm weather be damned! World’s best mogul skiers return to Fortune for 40th anniversary of freestyle skiing

The world’s best mogul skiers will be at Camp Fortune this weekend for the 40th Canadian Championships of freestyle skiing. Weather be damned!

“It’s going to be a pretty exciting event,” said Peter Sudermann, the ski resort’s owner. “It’s kind of flattering, really. It’ll mark a season wrap-up for the Canadian team of freestyle skiers and the 40th anniversary of the inaugural event on the hill.”

The return of the moguls circuit to the National Capital Region brings three generations of speedy skiers to the local hill where the Canadian sport had its debut 40 years ago.

In 1976, the International Ski Federation (FIS) started paying attention to freestyle skiers. They sanctioned the competition and Shell Canada became the main sponsor. Forty-three skiers from across the country contended for “Seniors”, “Ladies” and “Juniors” titles.

Among the recipients of those titles was a then 15-year-old Mike Nemesvary from Ottawa. He was crowned Canadian Junior Freestyle Champion that March, which launched him on a career that took him around the world, even on to the set of a James Bond film.

Nemesvary went on to be ranked third best freestyle skier in the world. Along with winning 10 Canadian titles and three World Cups, he also performed stunts in the 1985 James Bond movie A View to a Kill.

Tragedy struck, however.

That same year, he suffered a trampoline accident, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. It effectively ended his ski career, but not his dedication and love for the sport, which continues to keep him involved. Nemesvary, along with other ski alumni — Steve Hambling and John Pomeroy — organized this year’s event.

“Since 1976, the nationals have, more often than not, been held at larger, higher profile resorts,” says John Pomeroy, this year’s chief of competition. “Having it back where it all began is a celebration of that first event and a tribute to the alumni who competed back then.”

Pomeroy, an Ottawa firefighter, has seen courses evolve over the years, and says that today’s technique is much more refined.

“The jumps have a far higher degree of difficulty and the athletes get down the course much faster, “ he said. “They better absorb the moguls, keep a much quieter upper body, while traveling at greater speeds, and they make it all seem ridiculously easy to do.”

In a time when ski boots were nothing short of a form of torture, the skiers developed the 1976 ski course themselves. The bumps took shape as they skied down,  and they took their jumps off the biggest bump they could find. These days, moguls courses are still about 200 metres long, but FIS uses grooming machines and laser rangefinders to build them. Jumps are measured to within a centimetre, ensuring that different lanes in dual moguls courses are nearly identical.

Teenagers Steve Hambling (left), Mike Nemesvary, and Mike Abson (right) getting some air at Mont Cascades in 1976. Photo: Laszlo Nemesvary
Teenagers Steve Hambling (left), Mike Nemesvary, and Mike Abson (right) getting some air at Mont Cascades in 1976. Photo: Laszlo Nemesvary

Twelve Canadian championship alumni will have the opportunity to meet a new generation of skiers and even compete in a “grudge match” on Saturday to determine who is the best. Freestyle ski fans should get a kick out of watching veteran skiers challenge current Olympic champions, including Mikaël Kingsbury, a 23-year-old from Sainte-Agathe, Quebec, who just won his 30th World Cup. All three World Cup-winning Dufour-Lapointe sisters, who recently swept the podium at Val Saint-Côme, Quebec, in January, will be in attendance. Justine, the youngest, became Canada’s Olympic Champion in Sochi when she was just 19, and her middle sister Chloé took the silver.

The singles event will be held on Saturday, followed that evening by a ‘70s-themed banquet at Lowertown Brewery in the Byward Market. Sunday will feature the intense dual moguls. For more info, visit here.