words :: Feet Banks
Ski cross, with its head-to-head elimination-style racing, is very similar to the ‘Chinese Downhill’-style free-for-all races Whistler children grow up doing for fun. Jostling for position, passing on the turns and hauling ass down the mountain is in our blood so it’s no surprise that born-and-raised Whistler kid Ashleigh McIvor is one of Canada’s top ski cross athletes and a serious contender for the first ever Olympic ski cross races to be held on Cypress Mountain this February.
Born in 1983, Ashleigh was on skis by age two and grew up bombing down Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains under the tutelage of legendary alpine coaches Jordan Williams, Craig Glenday and Bob Deeks.
Ashleigh got into ski cross in 2003 but spent just as much time enjoying the deep powder freedom of big mountain skiing while ski cross established itself as a sport and gained Olympic acceptance. Now she eats, breathes and sleeps ski cross and it’s paying off – last season, Ashleigh won the World Championships in Japan and took silver in the World Cup race held on the Olympic course at Cypress.
Her “In it to Pin it” attitude and skills honed over a lifetime of charging the Coast Mountains brought her into the start of the 2010 race season ranked third in the world. Mountain Life caught up to her in San Candido, Italy during qualifying for the first two races of the season and talked about what it’s like to have the Olympics in your backyard and how the 26-year-old is enjoying her “deep and meaningful relationship… with skiing.”
How was the off-season knowing that as World Champion you were pre-qualified to ski in the Olympics?
It makes me more able to focus on the fun of it, not having to worry about qualifying and that, in turn, makes me ski better. But now I have to live up to that reputation so I put more pressure on myself and train harder.
“I am currently in a deep and meaningful relationship with skiing.”
I think a lot of people wonder, with all the travel and training, how does being an athlete at this level affect your personal relationships and being home and able to relax with your friends and enjoy yourself?
Just the other day I got asked on a live radio show if I had a boyfriend and I went with the answer my high-performance coach always suggests –“I am currently in a deep and meaningful relationship with skiing.” (Laughs.) The personal life has been a big change but I think most of the things I miss will still be there and I am really having fun skiing now so I don’t miss them as much. It used to be tough to come home and stay motivated, but this year I think we are all training harder.
‘Home,’ for you has always been Whistler. Do you think having more than 20 years of ripping Coast Mountain terrain gives you an advantage over other competitors, even the Euros?
With ski cross, I think you need to have that skill base you develop from growing up racing alpine but you also benefit from just ripping around, too – cliffs and jumps and all aspects of the mountain. Especially racing on the North American courses.
Our courses are different over here?
The courses in North America are why we race ski cross – landings built so you can take big air and land smoothly and softly. They have good flow. Lots of the courses in Europe are built differently. This course here in Italy, it’s just big cheese wedges into flat landings, not as many banked corners, it’s more like straight alpine racing.
And with men and women racing the same course, the team must share info and tricks amongst yourselves, right?
For sure. We get a lot of tips from the men’s team and our coach, Eric Archer, is a retired ski cross racer. Even before he was our coach, when he was still racing, I would ask him questions and get information. It’s great to have a coach with ski cross experience but we also need a coach with coaching experience and we have Willy Raine. They make a great team.
Ski cross is a bit like the ‘Chinese Downhill’ in the movie Hot Dog, where anything goes. When you’re racing, is there much contact or cheap shots happening on the course?
Technically it’s not allowed but it happens. Not all sections have eyes on them. The girls are kind of worse than the guys for pushing and pulling. Last year at World Champs a Swedish girl reached out and grabbed me and pulled, sling-shotting past. I yelled at her that wasn’t cool but mostly I just keep track of who plays dirty and who skis cleanly, and remember it.
Any tips for kids who want to get into ski cross?
Keep it positive. That was something my mom was all about – keeping it positive and letting me do what I wanted. As a kid, I didn’t have to go into Ski Scamps and was allowed to stop racing whenever I wanted. I became better because I was able to do it as much or as little as I chose.
Ashleigh ended up on top, winning the Gold Medal at the Olympic Games. Retiring after the games, McIvor now has a successful career in broadcasting, modelling and public speaking.—ML