"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life... Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."
- Steve Jobs
Sometimes life deals us a funny hand. Sometimes we have to look defeat straight in the face to realize that victory of another kind is waiting in its shadow. Such was the case, anyway, for a nine-year old hockey-mad youngster back in 1980. Her family had just moved from southern New Brunswick to eastern B.C. And she, in turn, was stoked to play organized hockey in her new mountain home.
"I'd always played with the boys," says Whistler's Kim McKnight Pedersen. "So as soon as we arrived in Revelstoke, I went to sign up for a team." She pauses. Shakes her head. Laughs. "They looked at me and said: 'You can't play hockey. You're a girl.'" Her physician mother, she adds, was furious and would have happily taken on the old boys' network herself. "But I didn't want to be that person, so... " She shrugs. Let's her smile hover for a moment. "So I went skiing with my school friends on Mt. Mackenzie instead."
But it's not like she had a lot of snowsport experience to fall back on. Or did she? "Most of my skiing," she admits "was done on the toboggan hill back at my grandparents' farmhouse in New Brunswick. Before moving to Revelstoke, I think I had a total of six days at a conventional resort." Still, there was something about sliding down the hill on a pair of wooden slats that mightily appealed to her. Especially when she got going fast. It was a feeling, she says, that she just couldn't get enough of. And racing? "I saw this ad for the local Nancy Greene program. It looked like fun. So the next season, I signed up."
Suddenly hockey's loss became ski racing's gain. "I loved everything about skiing and racing," she says. 'I didn't start young or anything, but I had a pretty diverse sports background — hockey and soccer and dance and gymnastics..." She stops talking. Takes a long breath. "So when I finally got to the ski hill, I was ready. I was so keen to improve. And skiing being so new to me, there were no expectations. It was all about getting better, faster, more confident. I was so-o-o-o motivated."
And the results came quickly. By her mid-teens, she was a member of the powerful BC Ski Team. The National Squad was tantalizingly close. And getting closer. For it was clear to everyone that this young gal could ski. And ski fast.
At the tender age of 17, Kim was invited to race in her first World Cup start. "It was in Rossland," she says. "Winter of '88 — a downhill and a super-G." She laughs again. "The sun came out mid-race in the downhill and Indian Flats got baked. Those of us at the back of the pack were WAY back..." But the super-G was a lot better, she adds, and she finished a respectable 27th.
Which normally would have been good enough for a spot on the National Team. "But they decided to change the criteria at the last minute that year," she says. And sighs. No national team for Kim.
"When you're young and idealistic," she continues, "and you're focused on a goal like World Cup ski racing, you believe and trust that everyone around you wants you to succeed." She pauses. Sighs again. "So when you learn that's not the case, you become an instant adult. Why? Because you learn not to trust the system, not to trust the people who are supposed to be looking out for you. Sadly, you realize that you're on your own..."
Kim is a fighter. Always has been. Always will. So there was no way she was going to give up on her ski racing dreams. At least not yet. "I just wanted a chance to race in the big leagues," she explains. "World Cup, Europa Cup, it didn't matter, I wanted to be able to test myself, challenge the next level." So she decided to race another year. But Alpine Canada moved the goal posts yet again. And that was enough for Kim.
"I remember thinking: 'Better for me to quit ski racing now before I lose my love for skiing completely.'" She says it with a straight face, you know, but the pain of that long ago decision still reverberates today. After all, she was only 18 when she 'retired' from the sport. "At that age," she confides, "you feel like you've put your whole life into it. So yeah, it's a pretty devastating moment. You don't even know if there's much of a life left for you to live anymore."
It wasn't easy. It wasn't fun, But she eventually got over her disappointment. Decided to become a physician like her doctor parents. "So I did the college thing," she says. "Graduated from the University of Calgary in human mechanics."
She laughs. "But by the time I finished my degree I realized how much I missed skiing... So I decided to move to Whistler. Figured I'd coach ski racing for a season or two before getting on with my adult life."
That was 1995. "I guess I never left," she says. And laughs some more. "Skiing is my life now. Whistler is my home."
Indeed. And pretty much from the moment she moved here, Kim started expanding her skiing horizons. No event was "off-limits;" no contest beyond her capabilities. From the Saudan Couloir race to Alaska's Arctic Man, from X-Games skiercross to big-mountain freeskiing comps — not to mention a World Cup victory in the straight-ahead world of speedskiing — she's done it all. "I love the feeling of freedom skiing brings me," she says. "I love the diversity of the sport. The fact that every run is different... every day is different. It's totally wide-open. Nothing dictates your movements — unlike sports like tennis or even wakeboarding. I mean, there's just so much room for personal expression. Personal fulfillment too."
Kim spent the next four years coaching with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. And she has great memories of that time. "I coached Mike Janyk to his first slalom victory," she says, proudly. "And Ashleigh McIvor was one of my racers. And I even worked a little with Manny O-P."
She reserves her warmest words, however, for her boss at the time, former program director Joze Sparovec. "He was the club's saviour," she says flatly. "He took what was then a mediocre program and transformed it into one of the country's strongest."
Still, working for the club she realized, restricted her too much in what she could do with her own skiing. "I was coaching and racing all these crazy events," explains Kim. "I needed a more flexible schedule. I needed to find more time to train and ski for myself." Enter adult coaching.
"Switching over from the club to the Dave Murray program," she says, "brought its own new challenges. Kids are often there because their parents want them to be. And that can be frustrating for a coach. But adults? They ALWAYS want to be there. I mean, they are as keen as it gets. Which puts a different kind of pressure on the coach..."
Her solution? Keep things simple. "Skiing isn't about how you look," she says. "It's about how you feel. Are you having fun? Are you enjoying your runs? That's what really counts. Funny too — for most skiers, that's when the real improvements begin to happen."
It's also when epiphanies occur.
"It was my second year with the program," she recounts. "And there was all this new ski technology coming out, you know fat skis and shaped skis and everything in between. I was encouraging my group to test some of these new designs, you know, but I was getting a fair bit of pushback on the idea." She smiles. "That's when an 82-year old guy in my group spoke up. 'Yep,' he said. "I grew up skiing on wooden skis and leather boots. Do you think I could ski on them now? Of course not. Embrace the new technology, my friends. It will just help you ski longer!'"
Kim figures she isn't moving anytime soon. She met future husband Ken Pedersen soon after arriving in Whistler. They started dating in '99. "He was a nice guy, an accomplished skier and..." she giggles, "he knew all the great secret ski spots on the mountain." But seriously: "When you meet someone," she says, "who shares the same passions and interests, who understands why you don't want a full-time job in the winter, and why you want to live in the mountains year round... well, it just makes building a life together that much easier." The two were married in 2003 and now own a home together with, says Kim, 70 per cent of its space dedicated to rental.
"It's the only way we can afford to live in Whistler," she confesses. We both laugh.
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