THROUGH ADVERSITY, CANADA’S SKI CROSS TEAM CONTINUES TO BE AMONG THE WORLD’S BEST
Contributor: Ben Steiner
Winning is tough. To become the best in the world, year after year is even more difficult - but for the Canadian Ski Cross Team teamwork and commitment throughout all the challenges they face, have pushed them to become the best in the world.
Marielle Thompson and Reece Howden, two members of the Canadian team, sit at different points in their careers but are both striving towards the same goal. Thompson, 28, was the 2014 Olympic gold medalist in women’s ski cross and has been on the national team for over 10 years. She has helped establish Canada as a superpower on the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup Tour. Howden, 22, is less experienced but has had little trouble settling in at the top level, winning a trio of races so far this season at Idre Fjall, SWE, and Val Thorens, FRA.
It has not been easy for either skier to get to this point. The team went from a season cut short to an offseason like no other and into a year impacted by COVID-19, all combined with past tragedies and injury.
Fortunately, the season has gone on with few hiccups, allowing the racers to be ready even if things are unpredictable. “It’s really just going with the flow and making sure I was prepared when things change to not get flustered by them,” said Thompson.
Howden’s experience is a little different than everyone else. Until now, his skiing career has coincided with his education. He graduated from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in the spring and is in his first full season on the World Cup. While veteran racers, such as Thompson, are taking on this year as a new type of challenge, Howden has a different outlook. “I don’t really have an idea of what it’s like doing a full year with the team when it’s not with COVID, so it hasn’t been a big difference.”
Although ski cross is an individual sport, the team atmosphere has been vital this season. Without a Canadian race, the athletes and staff have been away from home longer than ever before, yet, they have still been able to find success. “Everyone has done really well, we have so many different personalities, but everyone is going for the same goals, so I think we’ve done really well in that regard,” said Thompson of her life with teammates off the snow this season.
Having experienced teammates has been critical to Howden’s success this season. “With Brady [Leman] and Marielle, who have raced these courses over the years, I am able to ask them what to expect; that has made a huge difference,” said the Cultus Lake, BC native who currently leads the men’s tour.
Despite COVID-19 impacting lives worldwide, the Canadian Ski Cross Team has been able to push through to the top. But for the team, facing a global pandemic is far from their first challenge.
In her decade on the national team, Thompson has worked through major injuries, including one that nearly forced her out of the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, KOR. “If I had not had the major knee injury before the Olympics, I would not have to know how far I could push myself,” she said. Although she did not defend her Olympic title, pushing herself to the level to come back in such a short time frame made her realize how much she is capable of.
While Thompson and her teammates have pushed through COVID and injury, throughout the years, they have also mourned the loss of two teammates; Nik Zoricic, who tragically passed away after a crash during a World Cup race in 2012, and Mikayla Martin, a young skier who lost her life in a bike accident in 2018.
When Zoricic died, it stunned the team, who had never been through something like it until that point. “We really stuck together, which I thought was pretty beneficial for everyone to have someone to lean on because everyone was having struggles,” said Thompson. When tragedy struck again with Martin’s passing, Howden lost someone he had raced alongside for years, “It was really tough,” he said.
Through tragedy, injury, and now a pandemic, the team has come together in indescribable ways. With support systems to lean on and push through adversity with, the power of sport has allowed the Canadian ski cross athletes to thrive on the world stage.
This Canadian team heads into the rest of the season with expectations, alongside an unparalleled appetite for success and a drive that allows them to push through adversity with the power of team and hard work.