Whistler Freeride Club (WFC) alum Olivia McNeill made history in Verbier, Switzerland two weeks ago when she became the first Canadian female skier to ever finish on the overall podium of the Freeride World Tour.
Heading into the fifth and final stop of the FWT, McNeill found herself sitting just off a podium position, 2,305 points behind American Lily Bradley in third.
With a more than 2,000-point spread between her and the podium positions, McNeill’s chances of reaching the top three were slim when she stepped up to start her run in Verbier on Saturday, March 26.
But where many in her position would be calculating the potential scores needed to hit the podium and figuring out what placement might get them there, McNeill was more concerned with just putting down a good run that her injury-riddled body would be able to handle without crashing.
“I am not typically on it with the math. I guess my main thing is I’ve just been dealing with some chronic injuries and stuff. I was really feeling it in Fieberbrunn and wasn’t really able to ski and just couldn’t do anything I wanted to do,” she said. “And so going into Verbier, my main concern beyond points or anything was what I would be capable of doing. I was hoping to be more like 60- to 65-per-cent capacity, at least just to go down.
“I’d say I’m never really competing for results, per se, but it’s always important to me that I’m able to really show my type of skiing. I want to put myself in situations where I can do that. That’s the whole point for me and that’s the fun that I get out of it, just being able to ski stuff the way I love to ski it. So that was my main focus.”
Even if McNeill wasn’t focused on hitting the podium, the fact remained she still had two options for an outside chance at it.
Option 1: finish first. Even though that wouldn’t have gotten her the top spot, it would have more than likely been enough to vault her into second place, with third place guaranteed. But with the nagging injuries, this was a long shot. Option 2: finish at least two spots higher than Bradley or Norway’s Hedvig Wessel.
And in a situation where McNeill needed everything to go her way, the conditions on the mountain weren’t doing her any favours, according to WFC head coach and FWT broadcast host Derek Foose.
“Extreme Verbier is the name of the event … It’s the final for the Freeride World Tour and it’s the first time they’ve had full capacity in the resort so it had that huge festival feeling. The whole street was closed off and the local people were going ballistic, they were so fired up, like people out in the streets and thousands of people out on the slopes watching live. It was electric,” said Foose.
“But I think maybe the overriding thing of that event was how difficult the conditions were. The snow was really tough, maybe worse than tough. It was definitely a day where when people chose too much they got punished by the conditions, not able to control speed or not able to stick landings on bigger features that they had chosen.”
Dropping in last, after both Bradley and top-ranked Jessica Hotter succumbed to the tough conditions and crashed in their runs, McNeill just needed to beat one of the remaining four skiers to clinch a podium spot. And she made no mistake.
“She was able to put a run down that I think was intelligent given the conditions,” said Foose. “Everybody’s looking to win, so I think she was really smart. She skied to the conditions, and I think for as young as she is she was really smart and put herself in the mix with the best in the world, which was so exciting for the [WFC] and for us here in Whistler.”
Putting down a clean run, McNeill grabbed third place in Verbier and with it, the third spot on the overall podium for the 2022 FWT.
But while landing on the podium was an exciting moment for McNeill, the most important aspect of the accomplishment for her is showing the younger freeriders in Canada that anything is possible if they put in the work.
“I’ve got a lot of messages throughout the season from a bunch of younger competitors, about how excited they were to see me doing what I was doing,” she said.
“I think that’s really cool and it makes me really happy and feel really good about what I’m doing with skiing when I hear from them and know that they’re out there watching me do it. It means so much to me.”