KANANASKIS – The best ski cross racers in the world are ready to take to the slopes of Nakiska this weekend for the 2020 Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup on Saturday (Jan. 18).
This is the first world cup event of 2020 for ski cross racers and the first competition since Dec. 22 in Innichen, Italy.
Leading the field in both the men’s and women’s divisions are the Canadians. In six world cup’s this season, there has only been one race where a Canadian man has not made the podium and at least one woman has always finished in the top three.
Nakiska is the only North American stop on the ski cross world cup circuit, and the Canadians are excited to ski in front of a home crowd.
“This is our race, we only get one a year so it’s special to ski here. I consider this my home venue, no question,” said 23-year-old Banff product Zach Belczyk.
“Ski cross is still generally speaking a newer sport and when I was growing up I didn’t have a chance to watch a ski cross world cup at home. It was always the alpine event at Lake Louise. So for this race to be so close to home is really special and hopefully we can inspire a younger generation.”
Kris Mahler of Canmore is also excited to race in his backyard. He said the course is typically a steep and fast track that is riddled with technical features, which he said makes it one of the more fun courses on the circuit.
“We only get to race once a year at home and to have our friends and family here to support us is special. No matter how you do you’ll get a hug after the race,” said Mahler.
After six races this season and returning from two years of injuries, Mahler has been skiing the best of his career. The 24-year-old is currently second in the ski cross FIS points sitting right behind his Canadian teammate Kevin Drury. Mahler has two podium finishes and three other top 10 finishes so far this season.
“I think on any scale, I have beat all of my expectations I set for myself at the beginning of the year, and the break over the holidays really gave me time to reflect on the success I have had,” said Mahler.
For Belczyk, the season has been “satisfactory.” While he has three top 20 finishes, including a personal best of 10th in the first race of the season, he wants more.
“I’ve definitely had a good year so far, but I am still hungry for more top results. I want to finish in the top eight and top four,” said Belczyk.
The success of the Canadians this year is apparent in the number of racers in the top 10 of the ski cross FIS points. On the men’s side Drury and Mahler hold the first and second spots and Brady Leman, the 2018 Olympic champion is currently eighth. Rounding out the Canadian men is Reece Howden (18), Chris Del Bosco (19), Belczyk (25) and Carson Cook (32).
On the women’s side, Marielle Thompson leads the strong Canadian contingent, and is currently third in the standings. Courtney Hoffos (4), India Sherret (6), Brittany Phelan (7), Zoe Chore (11) and Abby McEwen (16) round out the Canadian women.
Mahler attributes the Canadian’s success to their close-knit team.
“Even though ski cross is an individual sport, we operate as a family. We build off of each others successes and this year there has been a lot of that,” said Mahler.
Races will start at noon at Nakiska on Saturday (Jan. 18) and are free to attend.