Contributor: Ben Steiner
As she watched her Canadian Ski Cross teammates on the World Cup tour this season, team veteran Britt Phelan wished she was racing alongside them. Instead, she was rehabbing from her home in Whistler, longing to get back into a start gate.
Britt suffered a season-ending knee injury in February 2020 in Megève, France when she overshot a jump and landed on one leg. With 13 years of World Cup experience, first in alpine and then ski cross, the then 28-year-old knew exactly what had happened.
“I knew right away, it was a bad one, so I accepted it,” she recalled of her last time on a World Cup course. “I have been lucky throughout my career that I’ve avoided surgery before, which is saying a lot being on the ski cross team.”
The 2018 Olympic silver medalist underwent surgery in Canada and began rehabbing in Calgary, working at the Calgary Olympic Park, until COVID-19 hit Canada in mid-March, forcing her back to her home in Whistler. While leaving Calgary was not ideal, her home-based rehab offered her a purpose for the day, something many people lost when the pandemic began.
“Even my trainer would come and train me from outside; we had these big windows,” she said about her first few months back home. “It was different and challenging, having to do physio over facetime, but for the cards that were dealt, we played them pretty well.”
In January, nearly a year after the injury, Britt returned to snow and began taking strides towards a return to the World Cup in the 2021-22 season. Training initially with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WMSC), she worked on her return with former Canadian World Cup athletes, including WMSC U18 Head Coach Conrad Pridy. At the same time, Canadian Ski Cross Team Return to Snow/Assistant Coach Jordan Williams helped her individually.
“I had an unbelievable setup with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, with the U14s and U16s and U18s,” the 29-year-old said. “I kind of progressed from training with the younger kids to training with the older ones, and that was good. It’s been pretty awesome to have my own little team out here and getting back at it.”
While skiing with the WMSC got her back into training, Whistler Blackcomb’s terrain parks offered her the chance to get back into some ski cross elements. Despite not being on a ski cross course, training alpine and using jumps, combined with William’s guidance, allowed her to return to snow in a great training environment. “He’s a pretty awesome guy [Jordan Williams] to do my return to snow with; he’s a super passionate coach, loves skiing more than anyone I ever met.”
Although Phelan aimed to get back to skiing before January, she knew it was not a great idea. “I’ve seen so many athletes go back to sport too early and in the worst case get re-injured or not be able to perform at the level they want to, so I took a bit more time to return to skiing,” said the Mont-Tremblant, QC native. “I wanted to focus on performance, not just trying to ski through pain that comes with returning to sport too early.”
The spring would usually mean the start of the mountain biking season for the multi-sport athlete, who competes professionally, but with most races cancelled due to COVID-19, she has rediscovered her love for backcountry skiing.
“It’s something I absolutely love and having that time to experience other sides of skiing is awesome,” she said.
From training with the WMSC to making strides in the gym and the backcountry, the next step for Britt is returning to ski cross with an upcoming team camp planned for later this spring, where she will rejoin her teammates who she has not skied with since her injury.
With her knee now feeling strong heading into the next few months, Britt continues to have her mind set on a successful return to the World Cup circuit in 2021-22.
“As much as it sucks to rehab for that long, it gave me direction and a goal each day... I just want to do everything I possibly can to go into next season as well as I can.”