Top-10 in Five: Marie-Michele Gagnon is establishing herself as a speed skier
Contributor: Ben Steiner
To succeed in just one discipline on the World Cup circuit is a monumental task, so for a skier to find success in all five disciplines is the mark of an extraordinary career. Marie-Michèle Gagnon, more commonly known as “Mitch,” has done just that and has made her mark in Canadian ski racing history.
In 2009, a fresh-faced Gagnon skied her way into the first top-10 of her career, finishing ninth in the Cortina d’Ampezzo giant slalom. In the beginning, the Lac-Etchemin, Quebec native, focused solely on tech events and was successful as a young World Cup athlete.
Eleven years later, in December 2020 in Val d’Isere, FRA, the 31-year-old finished top-10 in the fifth of five disciplines. In January 2021, she cemented herself in Canadian ski racing history, finishing on the super-G podium in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, GER, earning her first World Cup podium in five seasons.
When Gagnon began on the World Cup, being an all-around skier was not something she had in mind, but that changed when British skier Chemmy Alcott started training with the Canadian team. “Her big aim was to have top-30 in all disciplines, and she would always say that it would be a great thing if you could say that you’ve had that,” Gagnon said. “My goal became to achieve that, and then I did.”
After hitting top-30, Gagnon moved to target top-20 results, then top-10, and more recently, the podium. She kept shifting her targets to more focused achievements, striving to break through one barrier at a time. While gold medals and World Cups victories are every ski racer’s goals, for Gagnon, reaching her smaller targets and having those achievements is something she values. “I know I’ve had a particular path on the World Cup, having switched from tech to speed and being an all-round skier, skiing against people who are specializing in one or two disciplines. I’m really proud of this achievement.”
Gagnon began focusing on speed, specifically super-G, the year before the 2018 Olympics, as she prepared to take a shot at the podium in the alpine combined. “I had never really trained speed, but we did more of it that summer, and I loved it.”
When she crashed in a Lake Louise training run in 2017, her chances at an Olympic medal were dashed before she even got to the Games. However, she felt good on her skis and knew that speed was still the thing for her. She missed the Games due to a dislocated shoulder, yet she knew she was on the right track.
“When you get injured as a racer, you can’t be mad because of the risk you’re taking every day with this sport. Sometimes you have to take the risk to get the reward,” said Gagnon, knowing that taking chances and pushing everything to the limits is the way to find success.
Since the crash, she has fully invested herself into the speed disciplines and is now in the midst of her third full season focusing on speed, making her most recent results all the more special. “This was different. I’ve committed to this, and it’s starting to work and starting to show success because it did take longer than I thought,” she said, reflecting on her Val d’Isere result.
Gagnon knew it would take a few seasons to establish herself as a downhiller, “it could take up to four years,” she said, but now on the podium in super-G, she feels like an outright speed skier.
In 2014, Gagnon won her first race in alpine combined in Altenmarkt, AUT, and became the first Canadian to win in the discipline since Gerry Sorenson in 1984. Her landmark victory launched her career and earned her a spot in 100 peak moments in Canadian ski racing history over the last century, the 100th Anniversary campaign that Alpine Canada launched late last year.
After the win in 2014, Gagnon was a regular contender in the tech events for several seasons, “That was so cool, every race, I knew I could come in the top-7, and I could be a potential podium contender,” she said of that season. Although she knows that may be the pinnacle of her career, her recent bronze medal suggests she has a lot left to give.
Shouting, “I did not expect that,” after she crossed the finish line in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Gagnon is hitting her stride at the perfect time with the World Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo on the horizon.
Skiing with determination, Gagnon will attempt to write the next great chapter for Canadian women on the Italian slope, where she achieved her first World Cup top-10, and Lucile Wheeler won the first Canadian alpine Olympic medal in 1956. “It’s great to be confident going into World Champs, it gives you a 10% edge over the competition. I just have to ski the skis. I’m really excited for Cortina.”
As a veteran on the team, Gagnon is becoming familiar with the speed circuit’s courses and feels confident in her skiing. “I want to push, and I’m not scared of going down, just excited,” she said, as she looks forward to the rest of the season while striving for her next benchmark.