“It’s fast, it’s wild. You have to be pretty much 100 per cent in control of being 100 per cent out of control.”
That’s how Columbia Valley skier Keegan Sharp describes racing in the madly fast world of Slalom and Giant Slalom. Last season, Keegan achieved a ranking of 14th overall in Slalom on the NorAm Cup Circuit and had three top 10 finishes (Panorama, Sun Valley and the Canadian National Championships). Alpine Canada has spotted his growing success, giving him a spot on the Men’s Canadian Alpine Ski Team for the 2019/2020 season.
“This is a significant accomplishment and one of many important milestones in Keegan’s skiing career,” wrote Team Panorama Ski Club when the announcement was made this past summer. “He has grown up in Panorama (literally) and has been an ambassador and leader of our club for many years.”
Being named to the Men’s Canadian Alpine Ski Team raises his profile, and can provide him with access to more possible sponsorship opportunities, Keegan explains.
The Sharp family’s lives revolve around skiing. Keegan’s dad Mark was a Canadian national team coach for 15 years with the men’s and women’s teams. His mom Sigrid has been a high-level coach for years, from coaching the provincial team to running the ski program at Panorama alongside Mark.
Keegan was born in Banff. There was really no choice but to ski in the Sharp family. He was first put on skis when he was only 14 months old. When he was in grade 1 or 2, the family moved to the Columbia Valley. The magnetic pull of Panorama Mountain Resort was strong, and the Sharps have stayed in their Lake Lillian-area home ever since.
Keegan grew up skiing at the local mountain, joining Team Panorama as a kid and, when he was around 16 years old, started to travel further afield for races, including across Canada, into the USA, and over to Europe. He says racing has always been his goal.
“Ever since I can remember, it’s never been anything else,” says Keegan. “I couldn’t think of my life without it.”
Panorama has been a great training ground, he comments, with the strong support by resort management for Team Panorama, as well as varied terrain and high-quality snow – “it literally has everything you need,” he describes.
Keegan now races in the NorAm circuit. An ankle sprain this season caused a small setback, but Keegan is hoping to get back to racing this December. His ultimate goal is to race in the World Cup: “to compete with the best in the world and be right in there with them,” he says.
He is feeling positive about the season, explaining that if he can hit his races with consistently fast times, he could be invited to the World Cup.
“I really feel like I’m hitting my stride now, things are clicking (other than the ankle sprain setback),” he says.
He admits the work to get to this point has been hard, but worth every moment. Keegan relies on a few generous people, including his parents as his main sponsor, to make his ski racing career possible.
“With a mixture of the generous people and parents working hard and just trying to pull my own weight myself in any way that I can to make some money, you just make it through the season, you deal with it at the end, then you go again,” he said. “There’s no point in giving up on it. If you love it, and you can always seem to find a way to make it work.”
His dad is Keegan’s primary coach still. While that in itself can sometimes be a challenge, Keegan notes it is also good because his dad knows how far he can push him.
“He knows what works, what won’t work … he’s been watching me my whole career.”
Slalom and Giant Slalom 101
The gates in a slalom course are set about 10 metres apart on average, with roughly 60 turns a course, taking anywhere from 50 seconds to just over a minute to complete, making it the tightest discipline in alpine skiing.
“It’s quite high tempo,” Keegan describes. “It doesn’t really let down.”
Giant slalom gates are set roughly 25 to 30 metres apart, still very high-paced and fun to watch.
Technique is absolutely the difference between good and great in this discipline. Keegan explains: “There’s so many things that come with it – being good at tucking, aerodynamics, if your hands are too low or too far out, or if your shoulders aren’t forward enough . . it’s just going to drag the wind on you.”
Confidence is the number one goal on race day, Keegan says.
“For me, it’s trust. Making sure I trust myself, and just try not to over-think or overdo anything, because on race day, I can’t change the way I’ve been skiing, I just have to ski. It’s being as relaxed as possible, and trying to go as fast as possible.”