By Eric Elliott
Its been a while since Erin Mielzynski stood at the top of a hill knowing shes in first place, but here she is atop Panorama Mountain Resort in the final run of the Nor-Am Cup Ladies Slalom.
As a skier on Canadas World Cup team and former Olympian, first place means a lot to her, but thats not why shes here competing in a Nor-Am Cup event instead of enjoying a longer Christmas break.
Zoning in on some rap music before she makes her descent, she smiles, trying to picture the people she loves most, forgetting about the clock. Shes on a mission to make skiing fun again.
I think sometimes its taking a breath, stepping back and for me its honestly keeping it simple, she said.
Its this mindset that has set in on Ms. Mielzynski after what she terms as a rough start to her 2016-17 World Cup season. Starting the season in Levi, Finland before making stops in the United States and Italy, Mielzynski hasnt finished higher than 21st in a World Cup event and arrived at Panorama on December 13th looking to find the enjoyment of skiing again.
I think the goal this week, for lack of a better term, was a soul week for me, she said. I think you can get caught up in so many details and sometimes it has to be simple and were just on a hill and were skiing down a hill and its beautiful, and I think sometimes we have to realize thats such a big part of it and you can get caught up in the small little details of what youre doing and I kind of needed to broaden my focus.
At 26 years old, Erin has years of experience including appearances at the last two Winter Games over many of the racers competing at Panorama for the Nor-Am event but things like that, along with the results, are not what matters to her right now.
I just wanted to focus on my first few gates and from that point focus on my next few gates and then build on that feeling and come through the finish, hoping it was fast enough, she said. Its not a World Cup race, but its a big building block for the season and I think we can learn each race, each day, each run and kind of have that trust working into World Cup races.
While she didnt care about the results, the results were comforting to her as she recorded the fastest time in the ladies slalom event on December 14th with a 42.70 first run followed by a 45.28 second run that was good enough for first place in the event. Her second slalom event on December 16th mirrored that of her first as she captured first place, defeating fellow Canadian Ali Nullmeyer by more than two seconds.
Its these results that she said shes going to be using as a building block for her confidence as she prepares for the rest of the World Cup circuit, which begins in the New Year.
I think the biggest thing is that I am older than a lot of these athletes here and I have to trust what I know and trust my knowledge and trust that I deserve to be where I am and that Im a good skier and build on that, she said.
With this as a foundation, she said she can focus on some of her larger goals such as making it back into the top 15 in a World Cup event while also keeping the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games in the corner of her eye. For now, shes just happy to be skiing again for the love of it for herself, not for what it says on the scoreboard.
I think there are a lot of ups and downs, and when youre young, you think youre just going to improve every year, but in reality that doesnt happen to most people. I said that whenever this isnt fun anymore, thats when I know that its time for me to stop.
Is it smooth sailing? No. Do you love it everyday? No. But in the end it is the love that keeps me going and also knowing that theres a lot more in me.