An athlete’s path to success is a long and winding road. It is paved with successes and failures, hopes and dreams, pain and frustrations. What keeps them going through all the hurdles? Certainly driven by a competitive nature, Kris Mahler’s place on the Canadian Ski Cross Team wasn’t given to him. He had to work for it. But work can sometimes be fun, at least that’s his vision, one that has him waking up everyday to work towards his ultimate dream, representing Canada at the Olympics.
Twenty years ago, the vision was not for Kris to be one of Canada’s top skiers. When his parents introduced the kids to skiing, the goal was not to turn them into athletes.
“My parents weren’t big skiers at all but had no interest in sitting in a hockey arena all weekend, so they were looking for a sport that was going to allow them and allow me and my two younger brothers to do together. It was just a recreational sport that we were all going to learn.”
The turn out was great. The family would spend a lot of time in the winter having fun on the small local hill near Uxbridge Ontario. The kids started ski lessons to improve and the instructor suggested they take up racing since they liked it so much. From then on, the family would spend every weekend at the ski hill.
“That’s how it started, and we kept progressing through the levels racing GS and Slalom. I loved being on the hill. In my early years, I would ski in the morning and snowboard in the afternoon.”
The kids were doing so good the family moved for them to be able to keep progressing. Craigleith, a semi-private hill Kris now calls his home run is where he moved from team to individual racing and made it to the FIS circuit.
“My parents had to sacrifice a lot for Craigleith. It was a private club and we couldn’t really afford to ski there, it required to pay certain membership dues. They saw how much we loved it and so they decided to join the race crew. This way they got to be on the hill with us on the races.”
They were doing great at skiing and still loving it not making the move a sacrifice. Kris improved a lot during his time at Craigleith under the guidance of Bebe Zorcic, the coach who saw potential in him right from the start, who took him under his wing and helped him progress.
“That was probably one of the coolest days of my skiing career so far. Being told by Bebe Zorcic that you got something special in you! That’s when I changed avenue and started taking skiing a little more seriously. That was the moment.”
For the first time, Kris started working towards a ski career. That meant lots of training, more time on the hill than in school, lots of money and sacrifices. After two years competing at the FIS level, Kris’ family decides to move to Canmore Alberta, working towards that goal.
“I did one more year of FIS-Alpine with Banff Alpine racers and then I kind of fell away from it. I wasn’t loving it as much as I could have. That, and financial considerations, so I decided to focus on getting my grade 12, see what kind of University I could get into with my marks because obviously skiing would take way from a lot of that.”
Kris finished high school and got himself a scholarship to go to college in Fort Mac to study Kinesiology and play on the volleyball team. For two year, he was back to having a “normal” life, going to school, having a regular schedule, a social life and skiing just for fun. That allowed him to reset and reconnect with his love for the sport. He called up Bebe, his former coach and asked him what he thought of him getting back into skiing, but competing in ski cross this time. “I was wondering when you were going to call and ask!” His response was, once again, a great source of motivation for the young man.
“That was just the kind of athlete I was. Back when I was racing alpine, I would do my training runs and then go in the park, go through the trees, just to get a couple of jumps in. All the coaches hate it when you go into the trees like that because you run the chance of getting hurt, but this air time was just the best for me.”
It was the perfect fit for ski cross. Kris had good technical skills and was comfortable with the jumps. He decided to try for the Alberta team and made it. That year, he didn’t go back for a third year of college. Instead, he was back on the race course! His journey brought him from the provincial team, to the junior national team to the senior’s. A journey made possible by his VW Westfalia camper the perfect solution when he found himself without housing for the summer training camps in Whistler.
“I couldn’t afford rent in Whistler so I contemplated staying there in a tent, but I didn’t think sleeping in a tent all summer would be the best to recover physically form 5 days of training. Then, while driving around in Canmore, I saw a van for sale.”
His father having owned three VW campers himself wasn’t hard to convinced and proved to be very resourceful to help fix the camper. Kris lived in it all summer, training in Whistler and getting a taste of van freedom.
“I stayed all summer by the river, with a bunch of kayakers. Everyone was asking, ‘Kris, are you getting a good sleep?’ Of course, this is the best sleep I’ve ever had! Ventilation in my house, I get to hear the river, no noise, five minutes from the training camp, what else I could ask for!”
Right now, what Kris is asking for is a good year on the circuit. It is the qualifying year for the Olympics and he would love to be able to secure a spot and represent Canada in South Korea in 2018. In the meantime, he works hard at keeping in shape. Just back from training in Switzerland, he trains spends time between the gym and the mountain bike trails, another passion that also acts as cross training for ski cross, while waiting for snow and the season to start.
“I’m a high energy guy and when I do well is when I’m confident and that sometimes can be perceived as cockiness. They describe me as the kid who just want to have fun. In my eyes, that’s when I do the best is when I’m having the time of my life. I came to realize that I am passionate and I want to do really cool things in my career and I’ve accepted that a little bit more. My last words of wisdom would be to be true to yourself. If you’re that guy that just has fun and happens to do really well in whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. For me, that’s when I’ve seen the most success.”
We wish Kris the best for the upcoming ski season. We hope your dreams will come true and that you will be able to carry this passion and love for the sport and for life all the way to the top of that podium.