Kelsey Serwa

A conversation with the freestyle skiing World Champion and member of the Audi-sponsored Canada Ski Cross Team

At only 20 years old, in 2009, you won a national championship at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, defeating World Champion Ashleigh McIvor. Was this a clear goal for you at this point in your career?

Actually, it was my first season racing on the Ski Cross World Cup circuit. Finishing on the podium gave me confidence in knowing that I could be one of the best in the world. Competing and winning against Ashleigh, who was the current World Champion at the time, made me realize that one day I could carry the title of World Champion.

The next year, in early 2010, you won your first outright World Cup race at Lake Placid. Were there moments during the race that you expected to fail?

Every athlete has doubts, no matter what they tell you. What separates the good from the great is having the ability to mute those doubts when it matters most. The women’s final that day was the most challenging heat I have raced to date. It consisted of myself, Ashleigh McIvor, World Cup leader Ophelie David and Fanny Smith, a new face on the tour whose abilities were not to be underestimated. But at that moment in the gate, my doubts were far in the back of my mind.

In 2011, you won a gold at the X Games and finished first for the Ski Cross category in the FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships. Canada also ranked #1 of all countries, with eight gold medals and 16 medals overall (second place was USA, with seven medals overall). What do you think sets us apart, as Canadians, to succeed in this sport?

Our ability to work together – we push each other both on and off the hill to ensure each one of us is performing to the best of our abilities. We work together to figure out the secrets of a course rather than battling it alone. The Canada Ski Cross Team has so much depth in talent; each one of us has the ability to win at any given moment.

Most importantly it takes money. Without the generous support from sponsors like Audi Canada and Own the Podium, we would not have the funds required to train and compete as the best team in the world.

In your career you have suffered some serious injuries – for example, in early 2012, a serious fall at the end of a World Cup race in France. How do you cope with these setbacks, and how does it affect your desire to win?

I’ve spent many tedious hours building not only my body but my mind as well. Some days are easier than others. An injury like the ones I have sustained can shape an individual. Some people may feel it to be too challenging and decide to take the easy way out, but my injuries have made me stronger and more determined than ever.

What are some of the keys to your success – anything that you believe keeps you on top of your game?

First and foremost is the support I have received from my parents over the many years of racing. They have guided me to become the person I am today, and I cannot thank them enough. I feel the most important thing to remember about sport – and life in general – is to enjoy ourselves. I work hard, eat right, surround myself with influential, fun-loving people and get involved with causes that I care passionately about. The most effective way to be successful in any profession is to find what you are most passionate about and pursue it. For me, success is not a measurement of salary but a measurement of happiness, so do something that makes you happy and you will find fulfillment.

Now that you are part of the Audi Alpine team, how has this partnership enhanced your involvement in the sport?

The partnership with the Audi Alpine team and Canada Ski Cross has enhanced the popularity of ski cross in Canada, and it has provided young alpine athletes another opportunity to become better, well-rounded skiers. Being able to train year-round is integral for Canada’s track record of being the best team in the world for four years running.

You must have many more goals in your life, although at 23 years old, you’re already at the top of your field. Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now?

My ultimate goals are to win Olympic gold and be the World Cup overall champion. Ski cross isn’t the only important focus in my life; I am also a student. I am slowly chipping away at my undergraduate degree with aspirations of becoming a physiotherapist and one day running my own clinic. And, in the years to come, I hope to be involved in the development of a nationwide ski cross program.

(Originally published in Audi magazine, Winter 2012)

In the same issue, I wrote more about Canada’s ski cross team:

Ski cross is a highly competitive and fast-paced sport involving four to six racers who compete to the finish line, while tackling terrain that often includes large jumps and high-banked turns. During the 2010 Winter Games in Whistler, B.C., ski cross made its Olympic debut.

The sport can credit many Canadians for enhancing its popularity. Davey Barr, of Whistler, B.C., was one of the original members of the Canadian ski cross team; in 2008, Barr won the first ski cross World Cup race in North America. Recently retired Ashleigh McIvor, also from Whistler, B.C., is the first female Olympic gold medalist in the sport of ski cross. After competing internationally since 2004, McIvor exits the sport with 11 World Cup podium finishes. This year, B.C.-native Marielle Thompson made history by becoming the first Canadian to win an individual World Cup Crystal Globe in ski cross, and she scored her first World Cup victory during the women’s final in Blue Mountain, Ont. Calgary native Brady Leman is currently ranked second in the world in the category of ski cross racing, after leaving the field of alpine racing in 2008. Another of Canada’s notable ski cross superstars, Chris Del Bosco, is a reigning world champion and 2012 X Games gold medalist, with 17 World Cup podium finishes. Del Bosco became a household name when he finished in fourth place after crashing during the 2010 Olympics.

Ski cross, like many “extreme” sports, while being extremely entertaining, can also be extremely dangerous – Nik Zoricic, a Toronto native who was a popular member of the Alpine Canada national ski cross team, was involved in a fatal crash this year during a World Cup race in Switzerland. When the Canadian team won the Nations’ Cup as the top ski cross team on the World Cup circuit for 2011–12 (their fourth Nations’ Cup victory in a row), it was dedicated to Zoricic’s memory. Also in his memory, tax-deductible donations can be made to Alpine Canada in Zoricic’s name, and the funds will be contributed to a charitable organization that supports young athletes in Canada.