Shredding, Dropping, Chasing

A ‘Whistler girl’ takes gold in the Olympic’s newest sport, ski cross

Shredding, Dropping, ChasingStanding in the crowd at the women’s ski cross event on Cypress Mountain Tuesday afternoon, Chris Del Bosco still bore the scars of his brutal crash two days before, a face plant in the hard snow that had robbed him of a podium position. He sported a shiner under his right eye and a gash across his nose, but as an announcer peppered him with questions about his race, it was the waver in his quiet voice that truly laid bare his disappointment. Now he was watching his teammate and girlfriend Ashleigh McIvor ready for her final ski cross race of the day. But if anyone had any worries that she would suffer a similar fate, Del Bosco boldly put them to rest. “Ashleigh will show us how it’s done,” he said.

And that’s exactly what she did. In near white-out conditions, McIvor left her competitors far behind, blasting down the ski cross run to claim the gold, Canada’s sixth of the games. All day long in qualifying runs, McIvor had dominated the pack. But her final race was by far her strongest. In fact, McIvor was already cheering at the end of the race, by the time Hedda Berntsen of Norway and Marion Josserand of France reached the bottom. “I just felt this event was made for us, and I was made for this event,” the Vancouver-born skier told reporters after the flower ceremony. “This is the only race of my life where I felt like I was going to win. I used to think it was bad to think that way, that I’d jinx it, but I had a really good feeling about this race.”

McIvor’s confidence was not unwarranted. She was the defending world champion coming into the Games. In fact, Canada’s whole ski cross team had Everest-sized hopes leading up to the Olympics. The team was formed three years ago after the International Olympic Committee made ski cross an official sport. Since then it has dominated the World Cup circuit. Some observers had even speculated the team could win as many as four of the six men’s and women’s medals up for grabs.

But after Del Bosco’s crash and the failure of any other men to make it into the finals, many were wondering whether the pressure of performing at home was too much for the ski cross team. Those concerns grew during the women’s event as, one by one, McIvor’s teammates were knocked out of the event. Kelsey Serwa narrowly missed out on a spot in the final race, coming in fifth. So when McIvor crossed the finish line, waving her arms wildly in the air, her coaches and teammates were only too eager to reciprocate the gesture.

This was the culmination of a journey that began in 2003. That year, in an English class at the University of British Columbia, McIvor had penned an essay on why ski cross deserved to become an Olympic sport. Since then she’s worked hard to promote the sport. She also benefited from her vast experience skiing at Whistler, especially in its often wet, snowy weather. By the time her race began, some 30 cm of snow had been dumped on Cypress. Having the chance to show off her stuff in front of a home crowd simply gave her an added boost, she said. “Growing up in Whistler, I was shredding [powder], dropping cliffs and chasing the boys my whole life. That’s kind of what the sport is: skiing in the back country and racing your buddies,” she said. “Who could go out and better represent Canada than a Whistler girl?”