BY: Gordie Bowles PHOTOGRAPHY: Michel Painchaud
Canadian snowsports athletes are at a crossroads.
One direction is a path that we once travelled, an ugly journey through mediocrity (at best) where the country rarely had to opportunity to celebrate a World Cup, Olympic or World Championships medal. At the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics, a home Games, we landed a grand total of two — yes, two — medals in the snowsports disciplines, both from Karen Percy (bronze in the women’s downhill and super-G).
The other path, a more probable journey, is one that continues in the direction of success where Canadian skiers, riders and jumpers have been busy paving for years.
On the heels of this week’s announcement by Snow Sports Canada – the consortium that represents the sponsorship and marketing interests of Canada’s seven national snowsports organizations – of a points system (and cash awarding) to Canada’s best snowsports athletes starting next season, the debate should rage on as to who are the best snow-based athletes.
Kudos to Freestyle Canada CEO Bruce Robinson and Own the Podium leader Peter Judge – and other progressive-minded sport leaders – in coming up with this unique method of bringing more attention to Canada’s best skiers.
But how will Snow Sports Canada compare Canada’s best?
My vote, for what it’s worth, based purely on the 2015 season, would be cross country skier Alex Harvey, the 26-year-old who became the Canada’s first cross-country skier to win two medals at a world championships in Falun, Sweden.
And of course the efforts and performance of Canada’s newest alpine star Dustin Cook cannot be overlooked. Who can forget his performance at the world alpine championships where he took the silver at world championships? He emphatically followed this up with a win in Meribel, Slovenia, at the season’s last super-G to let all know he is for real.
But the most consistent maple leaf squad today has to be the dominant freestyle team, with medal threats in all of its four disciplines of moguls, aerials, slopestyle and halfpipe. Particularly moguls, where the Dufour-Lapointe sisters — Justine, Chloe and Maxime — have controlled the field and delivered numerous medals and titles. Mikael Kingsbury was handed the team reins from Alexandre Bilodeau last summer and replied by setting a record of seven consecutive wins on the World Cup freestyle circuit, easily claiming the Crystal Globe as overall champion.
Quebeckers Marie-Michele Gagnon and Marie-Pier Préfontaine, as well as Ontario skier Erin Mielzynski, have created a future that is bright for this alpine-crazed country, along with veterans Erik Guay (he’ll be back next season), mature veterans Manny Osborne-Paradis and Jan Hudec, who all head into the twilight of their careers in solid form on the men’s speed side, and Cook. And young hopefuls Phil Brown and B.C.’s Tyler Werry, who was a one-man force on the Nor-Am circuit this season, taking four wins and two discipline titles.
Canadian ski cross racers cannot be counted out, even though they had a rare off year in 2014-15, with Brady Leman as the top ranked male racer in sixth and Olympic champion Marielle Thompson, who won Olympic gold in 2014 but was sidelined by an injury mid-season, still finishing eighth overall.
Harvey’s cross country teammates, particularly Ivan Babikov and Devon Kershaw have a veteran presence and the experience to contend for at least another year or two.
All said, the Red and White flag should be waving proudly next season and Snow Sports Canada will have its work cut out to determine a fair model to compare Canada’s best.