CANMORE – Another ski cross season is in the books and Canmore’s Kris Mahler is reflecting on the memorable past six months.
It was a disappointing season for Mahler in terms of results, especially compared to 2019-20 when he rattled off five top 10 finishes, including two podiums, and finished sixth overall in the world cup standings. This season, Mahler only managed to crack the top 10 once and finished 35th in the word cup standings.
Having had time to reflect on the season, Mahler said he has pinpointed a few factors that may have been to blame.
“It was an interesting season. Results definitely weren’t where I wanted, or expected them to be,” said Mahler in a phone interview while in quarantine in Canmore after returning home from Europe.
“There’s a bunch of contributing factors, I don’t think there was just one big glaring issue. At the start of the season, I felt strong, mentally prepared, the skis were good and the equipment was dialled in – I think things just compounded throughout the season, which led to some unfortunate finishes.”
One of the major factors that Mahler believes hampered his season was the lack of crowds. He said at the beginning of his career, the spectators, TV cameras, and media were overstimulating, but as he has matured, it is something he said provided fuel in his preparation for races.
“I learned how to harness that energy surrounding the larger events and it helped me to push that extra 10 per cent," he said. "Without that this season, I just kind of felt like I was going through the motions in the races, and when things didn’t go my way, the negative energy started to spiral.”
Navigating a world cup season during a global pandemic was exhausting both physically and mentally, admitted Mahler.
The race calendar was altered and only featured races in Europe, to allow for easier travel by omitting the Canadian stop on the circuit, the first time since 2015.
“It was difficult, you didn’t get those resets to go back home and see family and friends," Mahler said. "I feel like we were on 24/7 and it definitely started to get draining, which is one of the disadvantages of being Canadian in a European-dominated sport in terms of the venue locations.”
The common occurrence of COVID-19 testing also took a toll on Mahler. He estimates he was tested more than 50 times throughout the season. Having to navigate the different restrictions in each country and being limited to staying within the Canadian bubble was also a challenge.
Looking back at the season, he has learned a lot about himself both on and off the hill and is eager to use the lessons he has learned moving forward.
“Having had time to reflect on this season, I think once I am at the end of my career, this will be a season I look back on as one where I learned and grew the most as an athlete. Looking at the results this season was a hard pill to swallow, but at the end of the day, I’ll be moving into next season, which is an Olympic year, as a better athlete.”
Mahler said at this level one of the most important weapons in a racer's arsenal is mental toughness. One thing that Mahler started this season, as a way to cope with the difficulty of navigating around COVID-19 and to improve his mental health, was putting pen to paper – keeping a journal.
“At the end of the day, it allowed me to reflect on things and focus on the small things to improve on because it definitely gets overwhelming when you start to worry about the big picture,” said Mahler
He said journalling is a practice he will continue during the off-season alongside the rigorous training schedule. Over the past four years, Mahler has been following a plan he set out in preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, and he said sticking to what he plotted out is vitally important.
“I’m excited about next season and I know I’ll have a little more fire in the off-season to work a little bit harder.”