By Marielle Thompson
The World Cup season is nearly upon us. The preparation for the first race of the season started almost as soon as last year’s World Cup campaign ended. For the past seven months I’ve been training on snow, hitting the gym, practicing starts, and, yes, hunting for sponsors to hold my spot as one of the world’s best ski cross racers.
This lesser known, but equally important aspect of preparing for the World Cup circuit, is securing personal sponsors who financially assist our gold-medal pursuits. My team is very fortunate to have partners like Descente, Sport Chek, Audi, Mackenzie Investments, and others that provide funding for coaches, physiotherapists, travel, equipment, accommodation and food. And I was also very fortunate to have the support of PI Financial as a headgear sponsor for four years … this support helped me in so many ways.
But in ski racing there is no guaranteed salary. I rely on prize money and personal sponsors to cover my living expenses … so at the end of the day, anything that isn’t covered by my team has to be taken care of personally. With an Olympic gold medal, two overall “crystal globes” and a world championship silver medal to my name, it still remains difficult to find all the funding I need and I’m currently entering the 2016-17 World Cup season without an official headgear sponsor. For me, finding financial support moving into the season lessens the financial worry so I can focus solely on skiing and training.
Our first stop on the World Cup circuit is in Val Thorens, France, in a few weeks. Featuring big jumps, fast speeds and lots of passing, it makes for one of the most exciting races of the season.
Physical preparation is crucial. For my physical training, my strength and conditioning coach, Craig Hill, kept my program diverse with trampoline and gymnastics training for air awareness, Olympic lifting for strength and power, and lots of speed, agility, and quickness drills. In the spring I was given a variety of corrective exercises to do daily in order to improve upon my deficiencies as determined by our physiotherapists. These exercises tend to be a bit of a grind, but I’ve already noticed a big difference in my skiing and strength in the gym, so those tedious hours are continuing to pay off.
Maintaining peak conditioning throughout the season is crucial. A typical race day includes four or five runs down a course, which is both mentally and physically strenuous. Keeping strong throughout the winter and sticking to the program laid out for me, will help to ensure that my skills on the course are supported by my strength and endurance I’ve built during the off-season.
The Mental Game
Mental fitness is also a big part of sport and ski racing. Just the other day I was emailing with our team sport psychologist about managing expectations during this camp. I find it far too easy to dwell on small mistakes and need to keep things in perspective moving toward the end goal: Winning races this winter. Making goals manageable and measurable is important along with making sure the staff knows what I need so everyone is on the same page.
I started my preparation for this season way back in April where we had an on snow camp at Sunshine Village in Alberta, where I worked on all aspects of my skiing from pump track start training to the more technical side with timed giant slalom and super-G runs. It was exciting to be there at the same time as the Canadian Alpine Ski Teams to mix it up with other Canadian ski racers. My brother Broderick, a member of the men’s team, even competed in the Canada Ski Cross Pump Track Challenge with our World Cup and “Next Gen” teams.
Right now, I am in Saas Fee, Switzerland, where we are surrounded by many other World Cup athletes, including the alpine teams who are preparing for their season just weeks away. Before this I was in Stelvio, Italy, where I trained giant slalom prior to easing back into a ski cross course. Since I spent the majority of summer in the gym, the first few days on snow I focus on lower intensity runs before getting back up to full speed. Here in Switzerland, the goal is to challenge myself on the ski cross track and get as much high quality training as possible, whether it be with my teammates or with other World Cup athletes sharing the course. In ski cross many of the top nations are able to work together on training environments. When our teams work together everyone benefits. For example, my first day on the ski cross track here in Saas Fee I had the opportunity to train with some of the best in the world: Anna Holmlund ( World No. 1), Alizée Baron (#3), and Sandra Naslund (#4). It was important for me to take the opportunity to ski with these women because they are the ones who push me all winter long, why not start in the pre-season.
By the beginning of October, we’re two months out from the first race on the circuit. World Championships is just months away and the 2018 Pyeongchang Games are getting closer and closer … less than 17 months away. The pressure is on to perform and stand on top of the podium for Canada. Now it’s time to see whether all of the hours I’ve spent in the gym and on snow have paid off. I can’t wait to get back in the start gate and hopefully pick up where I left off last season!