A look at how Canada’s alpine, para-alpine, and ski cross athletes embrace a multisport approach.
Calgary, Alta. (September 26, 2019) – Over time, athletes, coaches, and parents have heard the message that a multisport approach to athletic development is key to success in a sporting career. After years of seeing children pushed into early specialization; sport scientists, national sport organizations, and non-profit organizations have worked to reverse this trend and promote a multisport approach for Canadian kids.
Alpine Canada’s LTAD 3.0 supports multisport participation based on athlete feedback. In a survey sent to this year’s Canadian alpine, para-alpine, and ski cross team nominees, all of the athletes listed at least two sports they regularly take part in outside of skiing and ski racing, with some still competing in these sports during their off season.
“Growing up as a multi-sport athlete benefitted my progression in skiing quite a bit. The edging from figure skating, the team comradery from baseball, soccer and volleyball – and just getting outside and becoming athletic from a young age was a big part of my growth in sport,” said Olympian Broderick Thompson. “In skiing, you need all of that – you need athleticism, fitness, and recovery skills.”
Among those surveyed, the overwhelming majority listed cycling and mountain biking as a go-to, off-snow activity.
Britt Phelan of the Canada Ski Cross Team is a prime example of a multi-sport athlete. In the summer Phelan competes in the World Enduro Mountain Bike Series. “I used to get super nervous at the start of ski races and that makes you really stiff. Your legs don’t work like they need to – especially in ski cross, where you need to absorb jumps. If your timing’s off, if your legs are stiff, it’s just not going to flow,” says Phelan. “Biking has really helped me figure out how to calm those nerves, and just set where I want my mind to be. And biking and skiing are such similar sports; the way you corner – outside pedal, outside ski. The way you handle the terrain, the way you create momentum, carry momentum. And just going fast and things coming at you quick. Things change all the time, so you have to be adaptable”.
While most elite athletes at the national level compete or take part in non-ski activities at a more recreational level, some such as Phelan and the Canadian Para-Alpine Team’s newest recruit, Sarah Gillies, continue to compete and excel in more than one sport.
Gillies was born with fibular hemimelia, and has never let that slow her down. She set the Ontario Federation of School Athletics (OFSAA) record for the 800-metre ambulatory division at the age of 15 and continued to shine as a multi-sport athlete this summer when she won the U19 Junior Sport Ontario Cup and Canadian Cup Championship in cross country mountain biking, which does not yet have a para division. Gillies, who competes using a lower leg prosthetic in all sports, raced to the podium at the 2019 Canadian Para-Alpine Championships, earning bronze in both the women’s standing slalom and giant slalom races.
“I really love biking and running in the summer. It helps me have a little mental break from skiing, sometimes when you focus so heavily on one sport you can get yourself into a little road block. If you have multiple sports, it can help you overcome things,” says Sarah Gilles. “It keeps it fun, I love ski racing, but sometimes it’s nice to take a break and focus on something else, it takes some of the pressure off of ski racing.”
From basketball to rowing, hiking and biking to gymnastics, the 2019-20 national alpine, para-alpine, and ski cross team athletes can be found taking part in a variety of activities outside of skiing and traditional dryland as part of their preparation for the race season.
“Participating in other sports is the key to being good in ski racing. If you can join other leagues and other sports at a high level, you get to hone in those aspects of being an athlete,” said Manny Osborne-Paradis. “To be a true athlete I think you have to hone in as many skills because to be a ski racer, you need to be an athlete first, and you need to work at being an athlete.”
Skills learned off-snow can translate into being a better competitor on-snow. Our athletes try to take advantage of that as much as possible, even if it requires going outside of their comfort zone. Abby McEwen of the Canada Ski Cross Team agrees that pushing yourself if how you get better. “Always pushing your comfort zone is really important. Especially in Ski Cross; because it’s never super comfortable on-course”. Brodie Seger uses mountain biking to push himself off-snow. “I’ve always liked mountain biking as off-season sport. It’s got the speed; it’s got the risk factor where you’re pushing your limits and working on getting comfortable with that. There’s a lot of line involved, picking your line through gnarlier stuff. And if you know the trail, you go in with a plan, and work on executing that plan (similar to ski racing).”
Other advantages to a multi-sport lifestyle noted by our national team athletes include:
“Growing up, I played volleyball and soccer and worked within a team environment. It helped me be a better team player and work well with others” – Courtney Hoffos
“Having that coordination. It definitely helps. We do all sorts of stuff; it all helps widen our ability” – Hannah Schmidt
“Competing in other sports really helps you diversify and become strong in all difference areas, like balance and speed. I don’t think you could race to the same level without those extra sports” – Jeff Read
“For me, participating in other sports keeps things interesting. It’s really easy to get stuck in a rut when you’re just skiing all the time. So, I like to bike, rock-climb, and do a lot of outdoorsy things to take your mind off of skiing. These things help take your mind off of skiing, so that when you get back on skis, you’re really into it and you want to be there”. – Jack Crawford
“It keeps things fresh. Skiing is run and my favourite sport but mixing it up with biking and other activities keep the joy alive!” – Zach Belczyk
For more information regarding participation in complementary sports to develop overall athleticism please visit our ACA LTAD 3.0 website.
Follow Alpine Canada on social media for the latest news and information on athletes and more:
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, AlpineCanada.org.
ABOUT ALPINE CANADA
Alpine Canada is the governing body for alpine, para-alpine and ski cross racing in Canada, as well as for Canadian ski coaches, providing education, certification, insurance and compliance with the coaching code of conduct. With the support of valued corporate partners and donors, along with the Government of Canada, Own the Podium, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Coaching Association of Canada, Alpine Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic, World Championship and World Cup athletes to stimulate visibility, inspiration and growth in the ski community. In 2020, Alpine Canada will celebrate 100 years of rich tradition in competitive skiing in Canada.