Young racer launched onto international ski scene last year with astonishing debut

By Steve Hubrecht
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Alpine ski racer, Cassidy Gray, is the youngest of the trio of young Columbia Valley Olympians heading to Beijing, and heads into the Olympics on high note, with her confidence buoyed by getting into the Games and the feeling that her skiing is right now the best it’s been all season.

Gray, who just turned 21 last week and calls Panorama Mountain Resort home, roared onto the World Cup circuit mid-season last winter with what commentators at the time called “one of the best starts to a World Cup career by a Canadian in recent memory”. She did that by getting her World Cup points (finishing 26th in a women’s giant slalom race) in her very first weekend of World Cup racing in the middle of January 2021. Gray had been oh-so-close reaching the World Cup level a few seasons beforehand, before finally reaching the top level. 

She had missed the first few months of the 2020-2021 World Cup season (which runs from October through to April), but once she got her chance and broke through in January, she then proceeded to hold her own with elites, earning another top 30 giant slalom finish, and then coming 23rd in the giant slalom at the world championships.

As this year’s 2021-2022 started, however, she struggled to get the results she knew she was capable of, and participating in Olympics remained a question mark. The final confirmation only came less than two weeks ago. Alpine Canada had been allocated five spots for women alpine racers, but every time the Games roll around, the International Olympics allots several more spots to the top alpine racing countries, based on their overall performance as a nation. Canada has lately been one of the top countries, but exactly how would it rank this year? And how many extra spots would that equate to?

Eventually the decision was made; On Friday, Jan. 21, Canada could send eight female alpine racers, and Gray was among the three extra women selected to join the top five.

“It’s honestly a little bit unbelievable. I don’t think the full weight of it has sunken in yet,” Gray told the Pioneer, speaking on Wednesday, Jan. 26. “It probably won’t really sink in until I’m on the plane. It’s surreal.”

Gray, like fellow Olympians Amelia Smart and Courtney Hoffos, is participating in her first Olympics after only recently bursting onto the top-level international ski scene, and is grateful to have the chance to realize her Olympic dream at a relatively young age.

“If you’d have asked me two years ago if I seriously thought I’d be going to the Beijing Olympics, I’d have said no, just given how I had struggled for several years and couldn’t quite reach the World Cup. But a lot has happened in the past two years. A lot has changed,” she said. “And I’m sure at that time, two years ago, not a lot of other people expected me to go to China either. But I did it. It’s strange how life happens sometimes.”

After last season’s standout debut, Gray set very high expectations for this year, her first full World Cup season.

“This year has been a huge learning experience for me, and it’s really had its ups and downs, mostly because I seem to expect so much from myself. It can be tricky because skiing is often as much a mental sport as a physical one, and I need to learn to adjust my standards and just ski the best I can,” she told the Pioneer. 

One of the ‘downs’ in the ups and downs Gray described in her season, came several weeks ago, when she tested positive for COVID-19 and had to miss several World Cup races as a result. But since getting back on the circuit, Gray has been on an ‘up’ and said that “right now I am skiing the best I have all season.”

The timing of the confidence boost couldn’t be better, coming as it does, just as she gets set for China.

“Getting into the Olympics has also given me a boost. Not so much a relief, but a confirmation that what I’m doing is the right thing and that I really am headed in the right direction. To know I was going to Beijing, it was fulfilling, in the sense that it was validation of all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. It’s a nice high.”

Of course, every athlete is gunning for Olympic podium, but Gray will be stoked if she can nail a top 20 finish or even a top 15 finish.

She will be racing in the women’s giant slalom event, and as part of Canada’s entry in the mixed team parallel slalom event. 

The parallel slalom involved national teams comprised of four skiers (two women and two men) from each country. Countries square off directly with one another in a knockout style format. To start, two opponents, one from each country, ski down a set of side-by-side identical courses at the same time. Whoever crosses the finish line first gets one point for their country. If a skier misses a gate or falls she or he is disqualified, and the other skier wins automatically. Once the first two skiers have gone, the next two skiers race side by side. This goes on until all four skiers from each country have raced. At this point the country that has the most points moves on to the next round. If, after all skiers have raced, the score is tied at two points per each country (which can happen quite easily), then the team with best overall aggregate time moves on the next round. 

“For the parallel race I just want to do the best I can, and hold up my side of the event,” said Gray. 

This will be Gray’s first visit to Asia and she told the Pioneer she’s quite excited to see a completely foreign part of the world.

“I’m so grateful to everybody in Invermere who helped get me here. I’m grateful to the entire community for everything they’ve given me. Coaches, trainers, parents, family, friends, and of course my grandpa, Scotty Morrison, are all part of my team, and it really does feel like the whole valley is behind me,” said Gray.

Once the Olympics are done, it will be back to the World Cup for Gray, and she is looking forward to the World Junior Alpine Ski Championship, which will be held right here in the Columbia Valley, at Panorama Mountain Resort, from Saturday, March 5 to Friday, March 11.