Ski Cross Team Aims for Blue Mountain

Canada’s ski cross stars are hoping to dominate on home snow at this week’s Audi FIS World Cup race in Blue Mountain, Ont.

Blue mountain

The high-powered men’s team, fresh off winning gold and bronze medals at the Winter X Games, isn’t setting out just to defend Chris Del Bosco’s men’s title from last year’s race – they’re going for gold, silver and bronze. Marielle Thompson, a rising star on the World Cup circuit who has two top-three finishes this season, leads the charge in the women’s race.

“We want to get as many Canadians on the podium as we can,” said Eric Archer, head coach of Canada’s ski cross team. “Marielle is looking good for this event and has some confidence coming off X Games (where she finished fifth). With the guys, it’s sweep, sweep, sweep. That’s what we always hope for, but we’ll see.”

Eight men will represent Canada in Thursday’s qualification round. Four of them – Del Bosco, of Montreal, Que., Nik Zoricic, of Toronto, Ont., Dave Duncan, of London, Ont., and Brady Leman, of Calgary, Alta., have been on the podium in World Cup races this season. The closest the men have come to a sweep was at the season-opener in Innichen/San Candido, Italy, when Leman won and Duncan was third. Del Bosco won last year’s race at Blue Mountain and if his gold medal at the X Games last weekend is any indication, he is rounding into form at just the right time.

“I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve got a good course builder here and it should be a good race,” said Del Bosco, the reigning ski cross world champion. “I would definitely like to defend in Blue.”

The course, designed by Jeff Ihaksi – who built the ski cross track at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games – has some challenging features and big jumps. And that might suit a Canadian team that seems to thrive on the more difficult courses.

“It’s awesome,” Archer said of the course. “Big jumps, but it matches up well and runs smoothly.”

Blue Mountain is currently the only Canadian stop on the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup tour – Nakiska, Alta., will host a race at the start of the 2012-13 season. That makes this race, which is organized and run by the World Snowsports Event Group, one of the biggest of the year for the all-conquering Canadian team and particularly for Duncan and Zoricic, who have ties to the area.

“It’s great coming home, especially to a place like Blue Mountain where I spent a good portion of my adolescent years learning right here on these slopes,” said Duncan, who won bronze at the X Games on the weekend. “I’m coming off a string of decent results so I’m looking for another podium.”

Meanwhile, young gun Tristan Tafel, of Canmore, Alta., is hoping to build on a solid start to the 2011-12 World Cup season that included a career-best ninth-place finish in Innichen/San Candido in December.

“My goal is to make it past the first round and hopefully carry it on and try to make it into the final,” Tafel said. “This is where my World Cup debut was last year and I was six one-hundredths of a second out of qualifying, so I’m looking for a little redemption here.”

Whistler, B.C.’s Thompson, who has had a breakthrough season on the World Cup tour, was leading the women’s Skier X final at X Games before she misjudged a turn and hit the deck, finishing fifth. With several of the top female ski cross stars absent due to injury – including Kelsey Serwa, of Kelowna, B.C. – Thompson has a shot at claiming her first career World Cup win this week. She will be joined in qualifying by newcomer Mariannick Therer, of Saint-Sauveur, Que.

“I’m really looking forward to performing in front of the home crowd,” said Thompson. “I’m going to do my best to be as fast as I can and take the momentum I gained at X Games into the course.”

Canada’s ski cross stars, including Olympic gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor – who is on the road to recovery from a long-term knee injury – spent Tuesday and part of Wednesday touring schools in and around Collingwood, Ont. Team members visited 12 schools in total and talked to almost 5,000 students – many of whom are expected to attend Friday’s race.