Before this month, Whistler para-alpine skier Mollie Jepsen hadn’t dropped out of a World Cup start gate in 23 months.
And even in January 2020—the last time she raced before the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the rest of that season and the subsequent one—she was coming off of missing the entire previous year after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease following the 2018 Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
So when she stepped up to this year’s first World Cup start gate on Dec. 5, she wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I don’t think any of us even knew what was going on the first day … [J]ust realizing how long the days are and all the little things that you forget about because you are just training and running your own schedule for like two years, and then you go back and you are in control of absolutely nothing,” said Jepsen about jumping back into a full World Cup schedule that has seen her land on the podium in all six of her first races of the year.
“It’s been super amazing [to be back racing]. Like, I forgot what I did, I forgot every feeling of racing and the environment, I forgot what all of it felt like, and so being back in that environment and knowing that I’m the strongest that I’ve ever been in my whole life has just been super rewarding.”
That strength, coming from the chance to dedicate nearly two entire years solely to training without the worry and hassle of a World Cup circuit, is what Jepsen believes has been the biggest key in her hot start and newfound consistency, which she says has been an issue for her in the past.
But despite her best-ever start to a season, which includes two first-place finishes, one second and three thirds, the work isn’t done yet for Jepsen, who looks to continue improving her skiing throughout the year.
“I’m very nitpicky on my skiing and I know there is more in the tank that way. I know I didn’t go out and show my best skiing,” she said.
“I definitely was in a really great head-space and was able to push a little bit harder than I thought I was going to, so I think that is where the success came from, but the skiing is still building, and we are still building into a high-stakes environment. So there is definitely room to grow and room to improve and I’m looking forward to continuing to push it and see where I stack up once I am feeling a little bit more ready to be in that environment.”
If performing in a high-stakes environment is what Jepsen is working towards this season, this year won’t disappoint. With last year’s World Championships being cancelled and moved to this January, as well as the Beijing Paralympic Games in March, this season is shaping up to be a unique one for all of Team Canada’s para-alpine skiers.
And while she is still trying to keep her expectations for each of the major competitions low, with the start to the season she’s had and four Paralympic medals already under her belt, Jepsen knows she is a contender for the podium in each of the disciplines she races in.
Now the challenge becomes managing those expectations and “keeping the fatigue in check” so she can put down her best runs when they matter most.
“Whenever I push out of the start, I’m trying to be either full gas or I won’t finish, so I try to leave everything I possibly can on the hill. It definitely adds a little bit of pressure knowing that I am capable of being on the podium,” said Jepsen.
“In 2017 before the Games, I was never on the podium and that was so fine with me because I knew I was capable of it. So it’s a different mentality, for sure, going into these Games because I’m at the top of my game right now and I want to make sure that I can stay there for the remainder of the season. So that’s definitely a little bit of added pressure.”
As nice as adding more medals to her collection would be, all Jepsen really cares about at the end of the day is being able to look back on the season and be proud of her skiing, as well as see her teammates succeed.
“To be successful this season, I think, is not only for everyone to make it through the season happy and healthy, but just to be proud of myself and proud of my skiing and proud of every race and know that I put 100-per-cent effort in every day, even if I don’t achieve the results that I want for myself,” she said.
“If we walk out of the season and everybody is happy and healthy, probably super exhausted, but no one got sick, everyone is doing well, that’s the goal. It’s a different year obviously with COVID and I care so much about the team and I want everyone to put everything on the line on-hill but also be as safe and happy as possible.”