In 2017, Kylie Sivell joins 10 other international women on the Swatch Freeride World Tour. It’s a coveted spot, and the tour will take Sivell from France to Andorra to Austria. If she remains in the top seven after three rounds, she’ll continue on to Alaska and Switzerland. With a third place finish at this morning’s stop in Vallnord-Arcalís, Andorra, things are looking good so far (watch the replay of today’s event below).
For Sivell, it’s been a crazy journey; one that began on the slopes of Osler Bluff at just two years old. We caught up with the hard-charging, easygoing Sivell at her parents’ home during a quick Ontario visit for a fundraiser to help back her global adventures.
words by Allison Kennedy Davies
Let’s start at the beginning.
I started skiing at age two at Osler Bluff [Ski Club]. Later I started skiing moguls competitively at age 10. I had snowboarded and wasn’t too sure about that so I went into their Freestyle Moguls program with a bunch of friends and that took on its own little life. I ended up on the Ontario team and later on the BC/Alberta team. Until I was about 21, I was on the NorAm circuit and had so much pressure to win that I ended up not really liking skiing for a year. There was too much focus on winning and not enough focus on fun.
How did stepping away from moguls change your skiing?
I moved out west for school and I planned my schedule so I could ski at Big White as much as possible. I had all this freedom all of a sudden. Back when I was skiing moguls, I couldn’t ski trees, I couldn’t ski park, I couldn’t snowboard, I wasn’t supposed to play hockey or rugby. I had to keep it all a secret (laughs). So I started skiing trees and park and all these other things for fun and it was awesome. I figured I’d take one year and be a ski bum. That turned into four years and here we are. I’m living full time in Rossland, BC and skiing at Red Mountain.
Can you explain what big mountain freeskiing is?
They give you a big section of the mountain and you choose how difficult a line you want to take, how steep it is, how big the cliffs are. You get scored on how easy you make it look, how fast you do it, how difficult the line actually is and you get extra points for tricks, style and technique. You also get scored on how well you actually skied it. It’s open to interpretation like any judged sport. Sometimes it doesn’t go the way you want it to but it’s so much fun that it doesn’t really matter.
How did you first stumble into the sport?
While I was in school, my friend Kate messaged me and said there was a big mountain comp at Lake Louise and that I should join her. I had just quit moguls and I wasn’t really into competing but she assured me it was just for fun. As soon as we arrived, I could see she was right. We met some other skiers and they took us under their wings. They showed us how to choose lines, where the judges would be standing, pointed out which lines they’d be skiing. They helped us choose everything—which was amazing. Coming from moguls, there’s just not the same kind of support. I ended up coming second in the competition and I got a shotski as my trophy (laughs). It was a whole shift in mindset and dynamics for me.
So I guess a second at your first event was motivating? What happened next?
I went on to another event at Castle Mountain and that one was a Freeride World Tour qualifier. I face-planted that one (laughs) and then the next winter a guy I’d met suggested I come to an event in Colorado. We also travelled down to New Mexico and opportunities started coming up. I’d face-plant one competition, win one and then place in the middle of the pack.
Last year you won the Freeride World Tour qualifier series. Tell us about that.
I’d done the whole circuit the last two years but with the changing weather conditions, we’d have five scheduled events and two would get cancelled. For the qualifying tour, they take your best three results and when you only have three competitions you don’t get a throwaway. Last year, we had five events. I had two throwaways so they took my two wins and a second and that was enough. It just all came together and I was a lot more consistent in my skiing anyway last year. I finished first at Revelstoke, first at Kicking Horse, second in New Mexico, fifth in Colorado and twelfth in Washington. They take eleven girls from the whole world. In the previous years, they’ve taken the top two from each region but this year they only took one. I had to be first in North America to get to go on the Tour—and I ended up being ranked first in the world (laughs).
That’s quite an accomplishment. It must feel surreal?
It’s a dream I never knew I had until it happened. Maybe a year ago, I started to think that would be cool to make the World Tour. At the beginning of this season at Revelstoke I was telling my buddy that the World Tour seemed so intense and I didn’t even know if I’d want to go if I got invited. But he said when you’re 70 and sitting in your rocking chair, it will be a great story to tell your grandkids. I realized he was right. And then it happened.
How will the tour differ from the freeski events you’ve done so far?
The big difference is that you don’t get to ski the mountain before your run. You just look at it from across the valley with binoculars. You watch other people’s footage and then you try to choose your line and not get lost. That’s going to be really different. In qualifying, you always get at least one run on the terrain. Some of these places you’re skiing down next to a 200-foot cliff… and clearly I don’t want to go off that cliff. There have been events in this series where people have gotten cliffed out and had to just sit and wait for a heli evac for two hours. I don’t want to do that either (laughs).
It sounds like a huge challenge but one you’ve got the skills to tackle.
You’re still skiing with the best skiers in the world so no matter what, I’m going to be pretty stoked. It’s just a crazy opportunity. I know that for me to be that focused on results doesn’t work. I have to just treat it like any other run. I put on my tunes and relax, stretch, warm up. Hopefully when my run comes I can just be calm old Kylie.
I’m guessing like many athletes, competing at this level comes at a cost. What have you been doing to fund this World Tour?
I’ve been working as a medic in northern Alberta. I sit in a truck for 12 hours a day and hope nothing happens. I have paperwork to do and then I’ve figured out how to do my workouts in the mobile clinic trailer. I do chin ups on the roll bar, tricep dips and a core workout on the bench and pushups down the aisle. I went 15 days without talking to anyone once. It was crazy but calm. Once my season starts, there won’t be time to work. My parents and friends organized a big fundraiser last November which was a huge help in funding my skiing this year.