CHINA – Smooth, powerful and relentless.
Those are just a few of the words used by Canmore’s Kris Mahler to describe his style of skiing, an aspect of his new mental approach as the 2021-22 ski cross world cup season got underway on Saturday, Nov. 27 in China.
“When you’re in the start gate, you just need to focus on the stuff that makes you fast, makes you confident and allows you to win races,” said the 26-year-old.
He described the off-season as a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour job that includes everything from physical training, to the food you eat and even a sleep schedule. This summer was different, though.
At the end of a difficult last season, where Mahler finished 35th in the World Cup ranking, he established a goal to work on his mental preparation. This summer, he worked with the national ski cross team’s sports psychologists throughout the off-season, something he had not previously done.
“We’ve always had access to them. In the past, I worked with them more so when things weren’t going well in season and looking at performances that didn’t necessarily go the way I wanted them to.”
Mahler added that the inspiration to seek out the team’s sports psychologists in the off-season was to build on positive performances from the past and to quit putting the focus on what didn’t go right.
“It's awesome to look at stuff when it doesn’t go well but the goal was to look at how do we take that a step further and capitalize on performances that have gone well in the past to recreate those,” he said.
Mahler always regarded his mental toughness as one of his strongest assets but wanted to simplify his mental preparation.
He said in the lead up to a race, and even while standing in the start gate, he can be too much in his head and would start to overcomplicate things. Heading into a race this season, Mahler’s focus will be to highlight three aspects that make him a successful skier.
“It’s working on focusing on my identity. I want my mind to be clear for a race – during training, that’s when I can break things down and overcomplicate things – when I’m standing in the gate I just want to be focused on what makes me fast.”
Mahler raced to a 14th place finish in the season’s first race at Secret Garden, the 2022 Olympic venue and was pleased with his performance despite not cracking the top eight.
“You put in a summer's worth of work in and you hope it goes well once the competition starts. Overall I’m happy with how the first race went, I think I have a good foundation to work off of for this season.”
The race in China served as a sort of test event for the Games and provided teams with an insight into what to expect next February, and on a personal level, what Mahler expects as an Olympic hopeful.
With four Canadian men’s ski cross positions up for grabs, it will be a battle over the next two months between the nine skiers. There are seven more world cup events before the start of the Olympics, which gives skiers ample opportunities to qualify, including a stop at Nakiska in mid-January.
“At the end of the day, it's really quite simple – the faster you ski the better your chances are to qualify,” said Mahler.
Next up on the world cup schedule are a pair of races on Dec. 10-11 in Val Thorens, France, a course Mahler has had plenty of success on, including his first world cup gold medal in 2019.