Ski cross hasn't been a particularly hefty portion of Katie Fleckenstein's skiing diet.
But the Whistler Mountain Ski Club member quickly found her feet at the Tabor Mountain Ski Resort in Prince George. Fleckenstein, 15, got a sense of the course in the qualifying heats on Thursday, Feb. 19 before topping all four heats the following day — including the final — to grab Canada Winter Games gold.
"This was my first real ski cross event," she said. "We did a training camp in Big White before the Games where we did a race for two days, but it wasn't really big or anything."
Though she hasn't done large amounts of ski cross per se, the West Vancouver resident feels the sport is a satisfying blend of her two strongest alpine areas.
"Super-G and slalom are my main (events) and ski cross is a mix between the two. It has the technical elements of slalom," she said.
She said ski cross was part of the curriculum at alpine events, but it was a team event and athletes competed on "20-second courses where they have a jump and then you're done, so it wasn't really the same thing."
Fleckenstein said the Prince George course suited her style well, as it was a faster course that helped skiers build and maintain speeds as opposed to the others she'd been on that weren't quite so smooth — "this one just flowed really nicely," she said.
"It had the biggest turns, the most technical jumps. It had a couple of big rollers that you had to clear, so you had to use a lot of speed," she said. "The ones that we've done have been flatter and a little bit slower. The berms were just turns, you couldn't really build any speed off of them."
Being a new course built for the Games, Fleckenstein and the other competitors were on level footing when trying to pin down some familiarity with it.
"After the first run, I got the feel of the course. We had a really good inspection with our coaches," she said. "We had it by run two or three, and during the actual qualifying run, I nailed the line for the first time.
"On the actual race day, I kept on going down that line."
Fleckenstein was pumped to have a friend on the podium with her, as fellow Team BC athlete Nicole Mah of Grouse Mountain Tyee Ski Club was hot on her trail to take silver. Albertan Kalli van de Voort took the bronze.
"It was the first time I'd run with her all day, and in the qualifiers, we were one and two," Fleckenstein said of Mah. "Going down the course, I could feel her behind me the whole time. Going across the finish, it was so cool because I knew that we were one and two and just having a good time."
WMSC teammate Sierra King was fourth in the qualifiers, but was knocked out of contention in the quarterfinals. Ella Renzoni, meanwhile, qualified in ninth spot but was bumped out in the first elimination round.
The three local skiers on the men's side, Kyle Alexander, Alex Valentin and Asher Jordan, all qualified in good time, placing third, 12th and 14th, respectively. However, all three were knocked out in the quarterfinals. Though Quebec's Leo Pilote took gold, Team BC was well represented on the podium with Devin Mittertreiner and Ryan Finley taking silver and bronze.
Ski cross was Fleckenstein's fourth and final event of the Games. She finished 10th in the giant slalom and eighth in the super-G but did not complete the slalom event.
"The first race, definitely, it was in my mind that I'm a lot more nervous than I usually get," she said. "You can see a group of people at the finish line waiting and watching. After that, the next day, we started building off of that, building off the crowd."
Fleckenstein was generally proud of how her runs were bookended, but the intermediate parts weren't quite up to snuff on the national scale.
"I had really good starts to the course and really good endings to the course, but in the middle I had a bit of a slide or a crash," she said.
"I did well in the first and ending intervals," she chuckled.
Heading into ski cross with some twinges of disappointment, especially immediately after a crash out in the slalom, Fleckenstein made a point of keeping her head high with another event on her docket.
"My dad kept on saying to me 'Don't pack it up yet because you still have ski cross,'" she recalled. "I wasn't really sure (how it was going to play out), but after the qualifying run, I felt like I had more of a chance than I (initially) thought I did. None of the other provinces or territories had any training either. Everyone was new to it. It was an even playing field."
Fleckenstein said Prince George's streets have been electric with excitement for the Games, and she's appreciated the opportunity to go, especially as part of the home team. She added she's even experiernced a taste of the celebrity life, as B.C supporters have approached her looking to take a photo.
"(There's) the atmosphere in Prince George the whole time as we walk through the streets — people would be honking their horns and cheering for B.C.," she said.
Up next for Fleckenstein will be the U16 Can Ams at Apex from March 12 to 15. The race serves as a springboard for intense Whistler Cup action from April 3 to 5.
"It leads up to Whistler Cup. All of the teams for Whistler Cup are done off of that, so it's an important race to do well at," she said.
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