Former women’s ski cross Rookie-of-the-Year has genuine shot at podium in Beijing

By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

Windermere skier, Courtney Hoffos, like fellow Columbia Valley Olympians, Cassidy Gray and Amelia Smart, is participating in her first-ever Olympic Games, but unlike Gray and Smart, Hoffos will be charging down the slopes as a ski cross athlete, rather than an alpine racer.

Hoffos began as an alpine racer at Panorama Mountain Resort, before switching to ski cross when she was 17 years old. 

Ski cross is a discipline than combines elements of racing and freestyle skiing. Skiers compete in heats of four skiers. All four skiers head down the course, which includes banked turns, jumps and other obstacles, at the same time. Skiers are not allowed to intentionally physically contact each other, but with all the skiers trying to get through the banked turns at the same time, crashes involving one or multiple skiers are common. The first two skiers across the finish line in a given heat move on the next round, while the bottom two are eliminated. The heats continue, in progressive stages, until just four skiers total are left: the winner of that race (called the ‘big final’) gets the gold medal.

“I am beyond excited. [Getting to the Olympics] has been a major goal [ever] since I can remember so it’s pretty surreal,” Hoffos told the Pioneer. 

Windermere’s Courtney Hoffos celebrates her bronze medal in Reiteralm in Feb. 2021. Photo by GEPA

Hoffos, like Gray and Smart, is a young skier, just 24 years old, and like them she leapt to international attention with a breakout season just a few winters ago. But while Gray and Smart began making waves in the ski world just last season, Hoffos emerged one year before that, during the 2019-2020 ski cross season. That year she earned three World Cup medals and was voted women’s ski cross Rookie of the Year by the Federation of International Skiing (FIS). She followed that up with another strong season in 2020-2021, earning a World Cup bronze, coming fifth at the world championships, and ending the winter as the sixth-ranked ski cross woman in the world.

Even so, she came back from an injury at the start of this season and it wasn’t clear if she would be better in time for the Olympics.

“My ‘return to snow’ was accelerated and I had much less on-snow training than any other season. I was not certain if I would be going to Beijing at the beginning of the season, so I had a sense of urgency to get back racing as soon as possible,” Hoffos told the Pioneer.  “I feel honoured to be on the Olympic team early enough in my career that I get to go with a seriously decorated crew. There is so much experience, resilience, grit and not to mention prior Olympic medals, on the team this year which will be an awesome support system for me attending the Games for the first time.”

After finishing last season ranked sixth in the world, Hoffos is a serious medal threat in Beijing, but she is trying to keep things in perspective and is focusing simply on doing her best. 

“I want to just enjoy my time there, and I think when I’m having fun and don’t add internal pressure, I ski my best. Of course, I would love a medal but my plan is to ski like I can and see how far it takes me,” she said.

Although she’s never been to China, Hoffos has in fact already competed in Asia once before, having skied in Korea years ago, not long after she quit alpine racing and switched to ski cross. 

“Everything (in Korea) was quite foreign and different other than being on the actual ski cross track. But no matter how overwhelming the surroundings may be, I can count on that, when I pull out of the start gate, it’s the same as any other race,” she told the Pioneer. 

All the heats in the women’s ski cross, from the first stage right through to the big final, will he held successively across a single day on Thursday Feb. 17 at the Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, a few hours drive outside Beijing, in Hebei province.

Hoffos extended a huge ‘thank you’ to the entire Columbia Valley.

“I feel the encouragement of the community and I am truly honoured to represent the valley. My family and friends have been so supportive for many years and I appreciate it a lot,” she said. “I hope that three female skiers from the valley all heading to Beijing will inspire younger female skiers to pursue their dreams because it feels amazing to accomplish this goal with a strong community behind me.”