CANMORE – The swift rise of Canmore's Britt Richardson as one of Canada’s top alpine skiing prospects might only take a backseat to her rocketing speed on the thin line.
The 17-year-old slopes star is the world’s top ranked giant slalom racer for her age and the youngest athlete selected to Alpine Canada’s new NextGen Program, which recognizes the next generation of top ski racers on track to potentially wear the Maple Leaf one day.
As a national team up-and-comer who could play an integral part in Alpine Canada's bold future plans, it brings both confidence and pressure to the teenage racer, said Richardson, but she recognizes expectations come with the territory for elite athletes.
“I think it’s a good way to help pursue my ski racing, especially if I want to do world cups,” Richardson said. “It was definitely a surprise to find out [I was selected to NextGen], and I’m happy to be a part of it. Hopefully it helps my skiing career.”
Benefits for being on the national team include potential government grants to aide promising and established careers, and with the NextGen program, its athletes have the prospective to attend world cup camps and train with the nation’s elite.
“Hopefully I can make the [world cup] team soon in a few years,” said Richardson. “It’s definitely a good way to start my career in this sort of high-level [atmosphere].”
Alpine Canada has kept an eye on the top Calgary Alpine racing prospect for the past few seasons and are impressed at what's beginning to blossom.
Last year, Richardson won silver and two bronze medals at the Canada Winter Games at her backyard course at Nakiska. She then attended Burke Mountain Academy in the fall, a top-ranked alpine ski racing school in Vermont, U.S., which has produced graduates such as Olympic gold medallist Mikaela Shiffrin.
The major advantage of attending a sport school is its commitment to developing budding athletes. When Richardson learned that her training regime would almost double per week, she jumped at the opportunity to relocate south of the border. As it would later show, her promising results at the Canada Winter Games were just a taste of her growth in the sport.
In March, Richardson piled up six first place finishes in U.S. competitions for International Ski Federation (FIS) points before the COVID-19 virus pandemic hit. With a capability to surpass speeds of over 100 kilometres per hour, she left her mark on the international scene before the season ended.
According to FIS, the quick Canmorite is the fifth ranked international alpine racer in her age group and is ranked first in giant slalom, second in super-G, and ninth in slalom.
The teenager's alpine ski IQ and athleticism have impressed Alpine Canada’s newly appointed high-performance director Phil McNichol, who's been tasked with the organization's audacious goal of becoming a top-three ski nation by 2026.
“She’s first in the world in her age in giant slalom and giant slalom is real cornerstone event in terms of technical formation of skiing ability, so that’s really nice accolade for her,” McNichol said.
McNichol, a former U.S. men's alpine head coach, added that with a lack of a solid Canadian junior or development team, the NextGen Program showcases the athletes “on the right path.”
By selecting Richardson as the youngest athlete on the 2020-21 squad, McNichol is playing the long game for the bigger picture.
“[Having a NextGen program] also kind of benchmarks where you are as a country and you can see where you’re trending and how well you’re doing with different age groups in the system and those are things that clearly put [Richardson] out in the forefront of our radar, so to speak. We’re very encouraged about where she’s currently ranked,” he said.