Ashleigh McIvor: Keeping Ski Cross Cool

Ski Cross World Champion on the Nature of Her Sport

Next February, one of the most thrilling Olympic sports to watch will take place on Cypress Mountain in Vancouver. Ski cross – based on the simple objective of finishing first – features four skiers blazing down a course of curves, drops and jumps simultaneously. One of them will be Whistler’s Ashleigh McIvor.

“It’s like motocross on skis,” she said.

McIvor’s impression is that of an energetic free spirit, a fun-loving athlete who just happens to be high performance. She loves the sport, and it would seem that if she had no accolades at all – like being the 2009 world champion and the face of ski cross in Canada – it would be perfectly fine.

An early nominee to the 2010 Olympic team, McIvor said she is very excited – and is clearly looking forward to the venue. “The course at Cypress is the best in the world by far. It has such a good feeling, a really good flow. It’s like a roller coaster: you get to the bottom and you just want to do it again.”

At the age of 16, McIvor switched from alpine to freestyle skiing. The latter’s blend of open terrain, speed and unbridled fun made a distinct impression on her. That goes especially for ski cross, which will make its Olympic debut in 2010. But McIvor is a little worried about what’s happening to the nature of ski cross – she feels it is slowly gaining too much formality and structure. She would much prefer that ski cross not get too caught up in special clothing, technical advances, and the like – traits she credits with making alpine skiing too “uptight.”

She gives in slightly: “We need to have guidelines and rules and stuff for it all to work out and be fair.” But: “We’re just trying to make sure (ski cross) stays cool.”

McIvor said the ski cross landscape is filled with relatively spirited, fun athletes. That starts right here with the Canadian team. “We have an amazing team dynamic,” she said. It is a tight-knit group of friends who travel the world together, training and competing. McIvor even enjoys the company of many of her closest rivals. “All the French girls are pretty fun… fun on the dance floor too.” She admires French star Ophelie David, a “genuinely good girl” who is an excellent finesse skier and who takes her fair share of gold medals.

Focusing only on what she needs to do to win, McIvor said she doesn’t like to know who is in her heat until the race is about to begin. The other three skiers could be friendly rivals, or one of the girls who tends not to ski “clean.” “They play dirty. I just remember who they are and that’s how it works with them.”

In this spectacular head-to-head sport, crashes can determine who advances to the next round. Winning involves making split-second decisions to avoid trouble and reach the finish line.

Are the unclean skiers doing it purposefully? “It’s tough to say,” McIvor said. “You look at the video and you say, maybe she just caught an edge, but when it’s the same girls over and over again it makes you wonder.” Still, she has great respect for her competitors, particularly the top ones.

Through the summer, McIvor has been training hard for the coming season and her premier Olympic experience, hitting the gym and skiing on the nearby Blackcomb glacier. She is eagerly awaiting the unique opportunity to be hometown girl at the Olympic Winter Games.

“It is very cool. I’m working as hard as I can so I will never look back and say, ‘Hmm I wish I had done that.’ I don’t want to have any regrets after it all. I’m going to give it my best and hopefully it works out.”