LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - Despite steady rain, falling temperatures and oncoming snowfall, Chris Mazdzer opened the 2010-2011 luge season Friday in Lake Placid with the inaugural training run of the fall campaign on Mount Van Hoevenberg.
As the training session concluded, temps were falling to the point where rain changed to heavy snow.
The 2010 Winter Olympian, from Saranac Lake, N.Y., led a group of 13 members of the U.S. Luge Team down the track as preparations for the new World Cup and World Championship season began in earnest.
As is typical for a first day, the men's singles athletes departed from the lower women and doubles start, giving them a three-quarters of a mile, 16-turn course. In the next day or two, those luge racers will elevate to the men's start.
"Today was about having fun and remembering why we do all the training and hard work," said Mazdzer, defending Norton National Champion and 13th at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, marking his best international result.
"It was a good day. The weather was warm so the ice was a little softer. That gave us grip and we could get away with some mistakes. But as it gets colder, the ice will get faster.
"I think we were all a little nervous for the first day," added Mazdzer. "We were off the ice for a little while, but we all know it's there. By the third curve, I said, 'I've got this.'"
The women and doubles disciplines slid from their normal starts, including two-time Olympian and 2009 World Champion Erin Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y.
Like Mazdzer, Hamlin's last runs in Lake Placid occurred in March when she captured the Norton National Championships, and has been anxious to return to the ice.
"I've been ready to slide again," said Hamlin. "We had a cold morning last month and I was reaching for my gear."
Hamlin's World Cup season prior to the Vancouver Winter Olympics marked a breakthrough as she took the first three medals of her career, all bronze.
"Today I felt pretty comfortable right away," she continued. "The runs were good and the track was in good shape. All the transitions (between curves) were nice."
Now the 23 year old is seeking to take that World Cup achievement and carry it further.
"I want to keep improving. Last year was really good and I want to get better from there. The world championship track at Cesana (Italy) is one where I've had success. But I have to qualify first."
In the absence of an Olympic Games, the world championship is the next closest major event, scheduled for late January on the 2006 Olympic course.
Day one also brought a new doubles team to the track. Christian Niccum, of Woodinville, Wash., and Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., have hopped on the same sled, and took no time warming up to the occasion. Instead of training from a lower start, Niccum, sixth at Vancouver with Dan Joye, and Terdiman, went right to the doubles start.
"It was good. The fit is perfect," said Niccum. "Aerodynamically we're good and it was good going on the start."
"We had solid runs. I'm happy about it," added Terdiman.
It was also the first time in a different role for Program Director Mark Grimmette. The five-time Olympian, with silver and bronze medals on his resume, has transitioned from athlete to coach.
"The athletes were excited to be back on the ice. You could see that," said Grimmette. "Several of them, Chris and Erin in particular, picked it up right away. Niccum and Terdiman had a good first session together and should learn to gel together quickly.
"At this time of year, it's about getting comfortable on a sled again."
The Americans will train daily in Lake Placid, weather permitting, into November.