Coach Ricker second in return to Mount Baker 

Canadian snowboard-cross legend settling in to post-competitive life

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ALEX RUPP - Maëlle Ricker (left) celebrates her second-place finish in the Mount Baker Legendary Banked Slalom on Feb. 9.
  • Photo by Alex Rupp
  • Maëlle Ricker (left) celebrates her second-place finish in the Mount Baker Legendary Banked Slalom on Feb. 9.

A lot has changed for Maëlle Ricker since she last competed, and won the pro women's category, at the Mount Baker Legendary Banked Slalom in 2016.

At that contest, just a couple of months after announcing her retirement from competitive snowboarding, the 2010 Olympic gold medallist in snowboard-cross transitioned into an assistant coaching role with Canada Snowboard, had a daughter, and had a knee replacement last January.

At this year's Mount Baker contest, with finals on Feb. 9, Ricker sought her ninth win overall. Though she fell just short, as Banff's Audrey Hebert snuck past Ricker during the second run to leave her in the silver-medal position, she was still glad to be back at snowboarding's longest-running event, now in its 34th year.

"I really like riding there. I like to reconnect with a bunch of people I don't see throughout the year, especially the last few years, I've been sort of out of the scene," she said. "I love riding the banked slalom as well. It's such a great course. It's a light, flowy feeling.

"It's a little adrenaline kick, especially because I don't race or do anything else anymore," she added with a laugh.

Ricker described the atmosphere at the Washington-state event as a collaborative, friendly one.

"It's technically a race but it's more of a giant hangout. There's the parking lot full of RVs and a lot of Sea to Sky families that are all out in the RVs hanging out," she said.

As for the race itself, Ricker held a 0.11-second advantage on Hebert after the first run, but couldn't improve on it the second time around as the Albertan came away with a 0.45-second win.

Ricker said while her first run went well, she showed some rust in the encore.

"It was a little loose, I'm not going to lie," she chuckled. "I definitely need to have stronger legs.

"I was definitely a lot more out of control than in previous years."

Ricker noted that she had experienced issues with her knees, with 11 surgeries over the course of her career before retirement, so it was welcome to have had the knee replacement a year ago. Still, there were some other feelings that she had to get used to.

"I've got some new little tweaks that I've got to deal with, but the main thing is I just have to get stronger," she said. "I've been slacking. I need to get into the gym and get stronger.

"I did pretty good in the summer, but in the fall and early winter, I've been focusing on other things."

Apart from being back in competition physically, Ricker also acknowledged a few bumps returning to the game mentally, though she reached the level she needed to attain by the time finals were going down.

"I wasn't sure how I was going to feel since I've been out of that competition mindset myself, so I definitely was told on the first day that I looked a little safe, so I thought, 'Come on, Maëlle, you better step it up,'" she said. "It was fun to put the pressure back on my shoulders."

Despite stepping away from the competitive life as an athlete, Ricker has stayed involved as an assistant to national snowboard-cross head coach Jake Holden. Ricker said she's enjoyed the transition to a different facet of high-level sport.

"I love being involved with the team still and I really enjoy the travel. I like working in the mountains every day and I feel very, very lucky to be a part of it," she said

Ricker took some time off from the team after having her daughter, who is now two years old, and said that parenthood has changed her approach to make her a more effective coach.

"Now that I'm back after a couple winters' break, I feel like I gained some perspective," she said. "I feel like I got some toughness from dealing with my little one. Before, I was really just trying to give as much as I could but not step on any toes whereas now I feel like I've got a little toughness with my coaching, which hopefully will help."

What's been most gratifying for Ricker is seeing the Canadian team, which comprises athletes aged 18 to 33, enjoy success in the increasingly competitive snowboard-cross world. It was especially fun for her to see the team's youngest member, Eliot Grondin, hit the World Cup podium for the first time with a second-place finish at Big White on Jan. 25.

"It was neat to see how the team all celebrated together. That was very, very exciting," she said.

Several other local athletes hit the slopes at Mount Baker. Whistler resident Seth Wescott topped the pro men's podium, Rafe Hudson scored the win in the next gen boys' 11-and-under category, Amalia Pelchat took second in the junior girls' 12-to-15 division and Samantha Shelly was third in the next gen girls' 11-and-under event. As well, Mark Tremblay, who listed Chicoutimi and Whistler as his hometowns, was second in pro men's. As well, Anthony Shelly took fourth in the junior boys' 12-to-15 race, Pierce Smith placed fifth in the pro men's, Tomas Velisek took 21st in pro men's, Marie-France Roy placed fifth in pro women's, Sara Niblock took 12th in pro women's, Rube Goldberg placed sixth in pro master's, Akasha Weisgarber finished ninth in pro master's and JF Pelchat took 14th in pro master's.

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