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Whistler luge athletes blazing trails for their sport and country

Caitlin Nash, Natalie Corless and Trinity Ellis are the future of Luge Canada
Caitlin Nash (left) and Natalie Corless became the first women to race doubles luge in an FIL World Cup event this month.

“Why not?” 

Caitlin Nash and Natalie Corless walked into a World Cup doubles luge race on Dec. 14, 2019 pumping themselves up with that simple rhetorical question. After all, they had little to lose that day in Whistler. They were by far the youngest athletes in the field at 16 years old. No one expected them to get anywhere near the top 10. Nash and Corless were there to compete, to gain experience and to show others that they belonged. 

And so, three years shy of legal drinking age in B.C., they rocketed down a historic Olympic track in contention against world-class men. 

Women’s doubles luge did not exist at the senior level back then. Nash and Corless finished 22nd out of 23 sleds, 2.7 seconds back of German winners Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken (who at that point were the defending Olympic bronze medallists). Such details are insignificant. 

What mattered is that Nash and Corless became the first women ever to race doubles luge in an FIL World Cup event. 

On Dec. 10, 2022, the trailblazers returned to their home track stronger, faster and more experienced in every way. Again they made history by taking part in the first-ever World Cup women’s doubles race at the Whistler Sliding Centre (WSC). 

“It’s very incredible to see what we’ve achieved as an international sport federation in only three short years,” Nash said. “Natalie and I are both super proud to have played a small part in the development of the sport, and we’re excited that we get to finally compete in a category of our own.” 

“The race here in 2019 was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Corless added. “I’m really glad that we had the opportunity to help luge take that step forward.”

Their teammates have their backs all the way. 

“I feel like it’s a really full-circle moment for them with the World Cup back here now, racing in their own category,” said 2022 Canadian Olympian Trinity Ellis, of Pemberton. “And I love it. I love seeing all the women’s doubles teams now. It’s so cool.” 

Calgarian lugers Devin Wardrope and Cole Zajanski likewise appreciate the importance of women’s doubles to the sport as a whole. 

“It’s spectacular,” Wardrope remarked. “I mean, women’s doubles has been something that’s been up and coming and we’ve been cheering it along the entire way.” 

With older Canadian icons like Alex Gough, Sam Edney, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith retired, the torch now falls to a new generation to bring Luge Canada into the future. They’re off to a flying start, so far. 

Breaking new ice

Nash and Corless both started their luge journeys early. At eight years of age, Nash visited a recruitment camp with her father and took her first run on a sled. She took seven more that day, and there was no going back. 

Not long after, 10-year-old Corless took her first ride at summer camp in Calgary, Alta. She moved to Whistler with her family for reasons unrelated to luge, but soon met Nash around the track. The pair “hit it off right away.” 

A year after their groundbreaking World Cup race, Nash and Corless returned to the WSC to place first in the 2020 Youth Canadian Championships as a doubles team. Both are also experienced singles racers, with Nash finishing second and Corless third as individuals that weekend. 

In fact, the pair took a hiatus from doubles competition last year to focus on singles and maximize their odds of qualifying for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Corless did just that, finishing 16th in Beijing as she joined Ellis and Makena Hodgson to represent Canadian women on the sport’s biggest stage. 

Luge is the only sliding sport where athletes are timed down to thousandths of a second. It demands immense technical skill and finely tuned reflexes to avoid the potential run-ending mistake that lurks around every corner. Doubles luge presents a unique challenge on top of that, where those minute technical movements must be performed in close unison and proximity with a teammate on a sled that features not one inch of unused space. 

Nash and Corless have switched between both throughout their careers, often in the same season, month or even day. Both the technical adjustment between disciplines and the mental adjustment of racing against your teammate can be hard, but the Whistlerites feel that such experiences have made their already tight-knit bond even stronger.

“Having that internal competition between us definitely helped us become the best athletes we can be,” said Nash. 

“We went to school together for years, we’ve spent every single day together pretty much, so we are definitely very close, and it definitely shows on the sled,” added Corless. 

The young Whistler athletes have a golden opportunity to hone their craft over the next four years. They intend to build upon the foundation laid by Walker and Snith, who in 2018 helped Canada win its landmark Olympic team relay silver. Nash and Corless intend to appreciate the process too, realizing that sometimes you just need to “lay back and enjoy the ride” instead of obsessing over thousandths of a second.

They could very well become Canada’s premier women’s doubles team by 2026 when the discipline makes its Olympic debut. They could even join Walker and Snith as the only Canadian doubles lugers to bring home Olympic hardware.

Why not? 

Flying by

While Ellis is behind her doubles compatriots, she’s also on a mission of her own. 

After placing 14th in her inaugural Olympic Games this February, the Pemberton native aspires to become a perennial top-10 finisher on the World Cup circuit en route to what hopefully are her second Games in 2026. Ellis admitted on Instagram to feeling ambivalent in the immediate aftermath of Beijing, having wanted to give more of herself on Olympic ice. 

Nine months later, it still hasn’t quite sunk in.

“I don’t know if it’ll ever really sink in,” she admitted. “It took me a long time to feel like I had kind of processed it, but I am really proud of what I did in Beijing. Dealing with COVID and everything in China was very stressful, but overall, it was just an amazing experience. I can’t complain.” 

Ellis made sure to give herself a breather after Beijing, taking a “local vacation” earlier this year with friends and family. She skipped her usual summer training in Calgary, instead going for practice runs at the WSC to stay close to home. The self-care paid off: now she feels rejuvenated and ready to race again. 

Ellis fell in love with luge when she was young, much like her peers. Her mom signed her up for a run in Whistler during a Grade 6 field trip with Signal Hill Elementary School. Ellis grew up skiing, biking and playing soccer, but for her, nothing matched the speed and adrenaline of sliding. 

Ellis was all in. She spent two years on Canada’s NextGen luge squad as a teenager, gaining experience and confidence on the Youth World Cup. Her development turned heads, and midway through the 2019 season she found herself on the senior World Cup circuit alongside national team athletes like Brooke Apshkrum and Carolyn Maxwell. 

Nowadays, at 20 years old, Ellis is viewed as a leader of Luge Canada’s present generation.

“It’s kind of crazy to think about,” she said with a laugh. “I feel like I’m still so young on the circuit, but at the same time, I’ve now been on the World Cup circuit for almost four years, which kind of makes me feel like time is flying by. 

“It’s exciting for me to look at this team we have. Everyone’s really young and excited and trying their best.”

The friendships among today’s Canadian lugers are obvious even to outsiders—particularly when it comes to the trio out of Whistler and Pemberton. They’ve raced against each other before, but at the end of the day, they share genuine camaraderie. 

“Trinity is part of our little Whistler trio that we’ve got going,” said Nash. “Her success only motivates us to work harder. We want to succeed as a group and as a team.”