Name: Brittany Phelan
Team: Canada Ski Cross
Years on the Team: 2
Olympics Attended: Sochi (2014 – alpine)
Brittany Phelan has been an Alpine Canada athlete since 2007 when she made the alpine national team. She had her first World Cup start in 2009 and was a regular in the top 30 on the circuit in slalom, with a personal-best 9th-place finish. In 2015, Phelan made the transition to ski cross and just completed her second season with the team, winning the coveted FIS Freestyle Rookie of the Year Award.
In 2015, you made the switch from alpine to ski cross and last season was arguably your breakout season, winning the FIS Freestyle Rookie of the Year Award. How would you describe the transition to a new sport and a new team?
It was a pretty easy transition for me overall. There were a lot of technical aspects to learn about ski cross, including perfecting skills I hadn’t anticipated. Before joining the team, I had watched Marielle [Thompson] and Kelsey [Serwa]. They made the sport look so easy that I hadn’t predicted some of the challenges I would face, like starting quick out of the gate. Starts are a big part of ski cross and something I had never done as an alpine racer. It’s something I’ll be working on this summer.
Overall the transition was a breath of fresh air. It required a lot of hard work but everyone on the team was welcoming and helped me as much as possible. I felt lucky to transition onto the best team in the world. The Canada Ski Cross Team was a huge help and they are a big reason that I was able to achieve a successful season.
You had a massive crash at the end of last season, cracking your pelvis. You’re well on your way to full recovery. What is the most challenging part about battling back from an injury?
The crash happened just before World Championships in training. I was coming off my best result ever so it was a disappointing way to end the season but I’ve worked really hard to come back and I’m feeling 100% now.
I always learn a lot from an injury. When you’re skiing well, you forget one wrong move can cause an injury. Injuries are a stark reminder that you can never get complacent.
Recovering from an injury can be challenging because you go from having so much fun daily, skiing and training, to a space where getting out of a bed is a big challenge. I’ve learned in the past that when you’re healthy, you go 100% and you don’t get a break. But when you’re injured, I see it as an opportunity to work on other weaknesses that I may overlook when I’m healthy.
It also fuels the fire for success because all you’re thinking about is getting back to race mode. It keeps me motivated to get back into the gym and be as strong as I was before the injury. When something you love is taken away for a period of time, it’s a breath of fresh air to get back to it.
After two years on the Canada Ski Cross Team, you qualified for the B Team. What has that progress meant to you?
I was super happy with my performance last season. It was a tough transition to ski cross from alpine at first. I had to start back on the development team, which was sometimes challenging because I had gone through that program with alpine already. Deep down I knew this was part of the process and I had to work my way back up to the national team level. I learned important techniques by starting on the Nor-Am Cup circuit and working my way up to World Cup starts.
I’m looking forward to racing on the full World Cup circuit this year.
You seem to have a great relationship with some of the Canada Ski Cross veterans like Georgia Simmerling and Kelsey Serwa. Since ski cross is still an individual sport, how do you find such a sense of “team” among your teammates?
I knew both Georgia and Kelsey before I started racing with the ski cross team. I was teammates with Georgia on alpine and I also knew Kelsey also from alpine. I was lucky that friendship crossed over to ski cross. They have helped me transition and been so welcoming. The Canada Ski Cross team includes the best racers in the world and I feel really fortunate to be able to learn from them.
Even through injury, our teammates have been really supportive and watched the races from back home to share feedback. Having great training partners in the gym is also motivating.
Canada Ski Cross is the best team in the world and we want to stay that way. To be the best in the world, everyone on the team continues to build each other up and we’re all always trying to chase the fastest people on the team.
What are your goals for the upcoming 2017-18 season?
I want to consistently be in the big final. I want to be comfortable in the big final and know that I can make it to the podium. This summer I’ll be working on my mental approach and working on my weaknesses. If everything goes to plan this summer, there’s no reason I can’t get into the big final consistently and get on the podium.
And the big goal for this season would be making it to the Olympics. And there, anything can happen.
What is your favourite thing about ski cross?
The courses and the feeling you get every single time you do the track. It’s such an adrenaline rush. Whether you’re running it alone or against three other people, it’s always such an exhilarating experience and a rush I never got racing alpine. And the jumps!
What is your favourite moment from the 2016-17 season?
There was quite a few good moments from the season, but the best one was in the semifinals at the World Cup Finals at Blue Mountain. I was sitting in fourth-place and the racer in third-place crashed in front of me. I closed a big gap on the athlete sitting in second-place and I made a pass over the final jump, which put me through to my first big final. I made up a lot of space in the semifinal heat and made it into the big final at home, in Canada. For me, that moment was better than racing in the big final.