With growing confidence, a simpler schedule and a world championship to be contested at home, there's a lot for the burgeoning Canadian luge team to look forward to this year.
The national team is back in town this week for preseason training and selection races on the ice at the Whistler Sliding Centre, where the 2013 FIL World Luge Championships will be held in February.
And with each winter that passes since the 2010 Olympics, the track on Blackcomb Mountain feels more and more like home for the Canadian sliders.
"It feels like the home track now," said men's team veteran Sam Edney, 28, on an off day at the track Monday (Oct. 15). "We started in Calgary, but for me, once I get to Whistler, I feel like this the track I want to be training on all the time.
"It feels like the season officially starts once you get to Whistler."
The Canadians have quickly gone from afterthoughts to contenders over the past two seasons, and team members credit at least some of their success to having the world's fastest track available as a training base.
"I think Whistler serves us very well when we travel overseas because it's demanding, challenging and fast," said Alex Gough. "(Other tracks) feel comparatively slow and it gives us the opportunity to better adapt to those tracks."
Gough is leading the charge of Canadian success, heading up a strong women's crew that has started to rack up top-10 finishes with consistency.
The 25-year-old has two World Cup wins in the past two seasons, won a bronze at the 2011 world championships and placed fifth in the women's World Cup standings last season despite skipping one race.
"It starts to get exciting at this point, less than two years away from the next Olympics," said Gough.
Calgary's Arianne Jones came close to her first podium last season while up-and-comers like Kim McRae and Dayna Clay had their first top-10 results for the quickly-improving women's team. McRae said seeing some of the veteran sliders achieve success has been inspiring for the rest of the national team.
"It helps a ton," said McRae, 20. "It gives you that boost to keep going and follow them."
Another example of the strides Canada has made in luge over the past couple of seasons can be seen in their strong team relay performances. Gough, Edney and the doubles duo of Justin Snith and Tristan Walker finished second in the season standings in the new three-leg event. They also won bronze at the world championships last winter.
"When we look back on the season, instead of saying, 'It would have been nice to do this or that,' we're looking back on a lot of successes that I think we're very proud of, but also that we can build on," said Edney, who had a career-best fifth place finish at the World Cup race in Whistler last winter. "We haven't reached a level where we're satisfied. I think, more so, we're looking at what we can still achieve."
Last year's World Cup schedule was a grind for the Canadians, as the entire post-Christmas calendar took place in Europe. This year, the team will get a chance to come home in late December before heading back across the Atlantic.
During that trip home, the team will be back in Whistler to test out the new start ramps under construction in time for the world championships.
"I think it'll be really beneficial," said Gough, who said the women's 'Olympic' start used since the Games puts too much importance on the first few seconds of a run. "It'll be nice to have a start height where you don't have to win or lose the race in the first 30 feet of the track."
While in Whistler, the team is staging a series of three selection races to determine the World Cup team for 2012-13, which includes Sunday's (Oct. 21) national championship races at noon, and the last selection race next Thursday (Oct. 25).
For pre-selected athletes like Gough and Edney, the races are more of a formality and a chance to get back into the racing mindset. For sliders like McRae, there is a little bit more on the line.
"There's five of us girls going for two spots, so it's tight," she said.
The World Cup season is set to kick off Nov. 24 at Igls, Austria.