In many ways, Ashleigh McIvor is the personification of ski cross. Flashy, ballsy and camera-friendly, the 26-year-old Whistler native is arguably the most prominent member of the Canadian women’s ski cross team, largely because of her success—she is currently ranked second in the world—and because she is quick with a smile and deft with a quote. “Sixteen metal blades, ‘accidental’ contact, metal spears on each arm,” McIvor says when asked what attracted her to the sport.
Ski cross is the skiing equivalent of a dirtbike race. A fixed number of racers (four in the Olympics) descend a twisting, jump-laden course elbow to elbow. Each race typically lasts 60 seconds. Wins and wipeouts alike are generally spectacular. Like many men and women on the team, McIvor drifted into ski cross from alpine skiing. She’d been racing practically since she first put on ski boots at age two, but grew tired of the discipline in her teens. “Alpine just wasn’t doing it for me,” she says. “It was too structured, and too much of a commitment at that age, when the fun factor wasn’t there.”
In 2003, drawn by “the survival of the fittest” aspect of the sport, she entered her first ski cross race. Unlike alpine skiing, she hardly considered ski cross a sport; it was more like, she said, “racing [my] friends down the mountain.” She was good at it, whatever it was: less than a year later, nursing a dislocated shoulder, she qualified for the X Games. (In 2008, she raced in the World Cup, finishing fourth despite injuring the same shoulder.) McIvor recently had her best X Games finish, placing second in Colorado at the end of January.
McIvor, who also surfs and races downhill mountain bikes in the off season, is a podium favourite in Vancouver. What also makes her stand out, of course, is that she naturally stands out: she parlayed the media attention from her X Games success into a TV and modelling career. NBC liked McIvor enough to showcase her on its Olympics site, draped in the Canadian flag.
“I’m sure it helps that she’s photogenic,” says Dave Ellis, the team’s conditioning coach. “She’s done a great job bringing awareness to the sport, helping it grow.”