Once Ben Thomsen clocked in at 159.9 kilometres an hour. He wasn’t speeding down the highway, where that speed is so excessive that a driver’s vehicle would be impounded. Instead he was hurtling down the side of a mountain on his skis.
“It’s fast – especially when you’re just wearing your underwear and a helmet,” he says.
Mr. Thomsen’s favourite conditions are ones that send others heading for hot chocolate in the chalet.
“When I’m enjoying it the most, it’s usually conditions that everybody else does not like, which are very, very icy and very bumpy,” he says when he stops at Circle Cafe after a morning of skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort. “I like it when it’s very, very challenging. It really pushes your limits.”
The Olympian and world-class skier is home for a brief stop after racing in Italy in December, where he placed 10th in World Cup downhill events in Bormio and Val Gardena. In Val Gardena, he came in 1.31 seconds behind the winner. He also sped into 15th place at the World Cup downhill at Lake Louise in November.
“This is my best start to the season ever in nine years of racing World Cup,” he says. “I’m really happy with the way things are going. I’m happy with the results, but I’m hungry for more.”
Mr. Thomsen’s career highlights include competing in two Olympics, earning his first World Cup points in Italy and placing second at a race in Russia.
He will have roughly 65 days at home in Invermere this year and is heading off next for Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Sweden, where he will continue zipping down the world’s mountains in a blur of speed.
“From the outside it looks quite glamorous, but I can assure you it’s a lot of hard work,” he says.
Soon he will be in Austria on what he considers one of the deadliest, gnarliest and craziest slopes in the world. The jumps there are so wild that skiers can end up flying past at 140 kilometres an hour.
It’s so fast that crashes are always on the table.
“It’s part of our sport. It’s a risk you take,” he says, adding that he tries not to worry about what could happen.
“(Even if your) knees are bobbling or something or you make a mistake or you almost crash, you have to just not really think about it, not let it bother you,” he says. “My ideal mental headspace is I’m not thinking about anything, I’m just reacting, I’m quick to react or anticipate, but I’m calm in my head at the same time.”
After knee surgery in 2016, he spent eight months recovering. When he was back to racing again, four of the skiers ahead of him crashed.
“The fourth was right in front of me, a French guy who completely blew both his knees,” he says.
The race was put on hold for 45 minutes as help came and as Mr. Thomsen waited for his turn. That race was so rattling for him that he said he skied poorly.
Now he practices keeping his mind clear.
“I just kind of hit the reset button and focus on what I can do and what I can control,” he says. “It’s tough. If your mind is not in it, it’s pretty impossible to have a good run.”
After Manny Osborne-Paradis wiped out and broke his leg on a training run at Lake Louise in November, another of their teammates, Erik Guay, retired from the sport.
Mr. Thomsen – who had been rooming with Mr. Osborne-Paradis at the time of the accident – kept skiing but was shaken by the accident.
“When other people crash, even your teammates, if you’re not a roommate with them it’s easy to go back into your own little bubble and space and forget about it and just worry about yourself. And for me having to pack up all of Manny’s gear it was just a constant reminder of what had happened and mentally it was hard for me to get over that,” he says, adding that he wishes Mr. Osborne-Paradis all the best with his recovery.
What keeps Mr. Thomsen going in spite of the risks?
“I’m a competitor. I just love to compete,” he says. “I really enjoy showing other people what I can do.”
Mr. Thomsen’s biggest fans – including his aunt Sue Coy, who reached out to the Pioneer about Mr. Thomsen’s stellar season – get up in the middle of the night to watch his races live. Some even travel to cheer him on in person.
“It’s really cool to know I have that belief and support behind me,” he says.