Catching up with the World Cup-winning slalom skier. Words :: Allison Kennedy Davies.
Three-time Olympian and Team Canada alpine ski team member since 2008, Erin Mielzynski continues to turn in top finishes at slalom races across the globe.
Mielzynski grew up skiing at Georgian Peaks while making a name as a competitive water skier. But alpine—specifically slalom—was her real passion. We caught up with the Collingwood, Ontario resident to find out how she continues to focus and train as a top-calibre athlete in the midst of the pandemic.
Mountain Life: I know things have been crazy for you. Tell us what you have on the go.
Erin Mielzynski: I got home from Italy two and a half weeks ago, so I spent 14 days of that in quarantine. We’re leaving tomorrow indefinitely, so the last few days have been crazy trying to pack for what could be seven months. We fly to Italy and then we go to Zermatt, Switzerland, for a few weeks. After that the schedule takes an unknown turn.
ML: What’s the status of the 20/21 season now?
EM: The first race was actually moved earlier, which is tough for North Americans because we hadn’t trained until July. As of now, we have the schedule that was set up last year in January, but it really depends what happens with COVID-19. We usually have every detail planned a year ahead. Some countries may make last-minute decisions and races may move. With quarantine rules, it was too hard for international athletes to race in Canada so those rounds were cancelled.
ML: You recently had to contend with COVID-19 protocols while training in Italy. What was that like?
EM: You hear the protocols but you don’t really know what you’re going to get until you land. You can plan everything but the unknowns are intimidating. We had major protocols in place but also had to be fluid, to change, adapt and implement new protocols. I was pretty nervous, probably how some people feel now returning to work and school.
“[Our training is] really calculated in terms of when we build power, strength and endurance. It’s hard to find that calculation when you don’t know what the end result is.”
Once we were on snow, it was awesome. Because skiing is outside, you’re totally alone and our team became our bubble. There is protocol from the start to the finish. You put on your mask when you get to the bottom, if you are stepping into a line or if there are people around. So, it’s always in the back of your head but for us, we’re very lucky to have that freedom on snow.
ML: When the pandemic hit, were you able to continue your off-snow training?
EM: Our season was cut short very quickly. Within 12 hours, we were heading home. When I got home I took a bit of time. I was exhausted. Traveling at the beginning of the pandemic was scarier. I self-isolated when I got home but my trainer and I kept talking. Usually we’re focused on being ready for a specific date but now that date was unknown. It’s actually really calculated in terms of when we build power, strength and endurance. It’s hard to find that calculation when you don’t know what the end result is.
ML: You’ve had an accomplished career with three Olympics, a World Cup win and plenty of podiums. How have you stayed focused as a Team Canada member since 2008?
EM: It ebbs and flows. Ski racing is like the rest of life. You lose more than you win. We have highlights and successes but to reach those you have so many struggles. And in the struggles, sometimes it’s hard to find the motivation. It’s easy to keep going when you’re winning. When you’re the rookie, every race is exciting.
“Ski racing is like the rest of life. You lose more than you win. We have highlights and successes but to reach those you have so many struggles.”
Then in the middle of your career, you’re a podium contender again and it’s super-exciting. Then you’re a veteran and the pressure changes. It’s a fine line between the pressure of being a veteran and having those moments of success to build on. You have to be brave enough to realize times are changing. I can’t ski like I did when I won my World Cup and that skiing would no longer win. I have to be fluid so I don’t become a part of history too early.
ML: I’ve read your Helly Hansen blog on mental toughness vs. mental fitness. What do you see as the difference?
EM: I’m so frustrated with people saying someone is mentally weak or mentally strong—you don’t know a fraction of what that person is going through. It’s not measurable like physical strength. I prefer mental fitness because it’s something you can improve. It’s about becoming a better version of yourself. We’re shifting as a society in terms of mental health. You can work on your mental fitness and no one’s saying you’re weak. You’re just making that mental muscle stronger.
ML: Can you rewind a bit and tell us how you got started in slalom racing back in the Georgian Peaks days?
EM: The Peaks always brings a big smile to my face. I’ve moved around a lot but The Peaks is my constant. I don’t get back often, but when I do, it’s home. My grandparents were among the first members, then my parents joined. My name is Erin because my mom pictured me racing down the hill and everyone thinking I was a boy. Then they’d see this pony tail and be like, “Oh, she’s a girl, but she’s so aggressive.” The Peaks was the beginning of everything. I chased my sister around and we’d get the last run every day.
“My name is Erin because my mom pictured me racing down the hill and everyone thinking I was a boy. Then they’d see this pony tail and be like, ‘Oh, she’s a girl, but she’s so aggressive.’”
We live on the Escarpment and have one of the strongest pools of ski racers. People expect great skiers to come from Whistler and those regions, but we produce really great ski racers with this pure love for skiing.
ML: Choosing a career highlight is a tough task but what are some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of so far?
EM: The standout moment is when Canada won silver at the team event at the World Championships in Vail. I’ve always been in individual sports, but all of a sudden, we were part of a team where no one was super-well-ranked. We were the underdogs. Somehow our team stood on the podium between these huge Goliaths of ski racing.
ML: This is a tough year for setting goals but you must have some in mind.
EM: I have to prepare as if this is a normal season, and right now I’m not where I want to be. That’s the honest answer. This year, I need to climb. I am going to fight tooth and nail into the top seven ranking overall. That puts me into a better position for World Champs and into fighting contention for the Olympics. Podiums are the goal but realistically, I need to fight my way into that spot.