The Lou Marsh Legacy - Honouring Canada's Top Athletes

Ken Read

Downhill Skiing

1978


Portrait of skier Ken Read wearing his ski gear

Portrait of skier Ken Read wearing his ski gear

Date
1978
Collection
Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

A not so Crazy Canuck…

Ken Read’s victory in the downhill event at Val d'Isere, France, on December 7, 1975, set the alpine ski world on fire when he became the first non-European male to win a World Cup downhill.

Downhill skiing is highly revered to the Europeans. It is like hockey to Canadians. Ken Read and his teammates were part of a Canadian phenomenon that burst onto the scene in the fall of 1975. Seemingly out of nowhere they broke into the top tier next to the dominant and well funded Swiss and Austrian Downhill teams. They shared a love for speed and hard work and each possessed a compact physique that was often an advantage in the very fast and treacherous discipline of downhill skiing. These guys simply pushed each other to new heights. The European Journalist who covered the World Cup coined them the “Crazy Canucks” and the media often portrayed them as wild and reckless.

Ken Read had a different view. There was a very thin line between victory and tragedy on the steep icy ‘pistes’ of the downhill, reaching speeds sometimes in excess of 90mph in paper-thin suits. Finding the fastest line down at the world class level required incredible technical preparation and the assumption of calculated risk but not recklessness. Read combined those ingredients exceptionally well.

Ken Read validated himself as a premier downhill racer in 1978 with two wins. One win in Chamonix, France, and the other in Schladming, Austria. He was already a celebrity in Europe and his ability to speak in French, German and English made him a media sensation. The Europeans were so fiercely competitive among themselves and so unaccustomed to outside competition, they embraced Ken Read as a hero long before the magnitude of his accomplishments were understood in Canada.

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Highlights

1975
First place, Downhill event, FIS World Cup, Val d’Isere, France
1978
First place, Downhill event, FIS World Cup, Les Houches, Chamonix, France
1978
First place, Downhill event, FIS World Cup, Schladming, Austria
1978
Lou Marsh Memorial Award
1980
First place, Downhill event, FIS World Cup, Kitzbuhel, Austria
1980
First place, Downhill event, FIS World Cup, Wengen, Switzerland
1991
Named to the Order of Canada