Chris Del Bosco is a scruffy, burly, painfully shy fellow whose life revolves around skiing down a twisting course, elbow to elbow with three competitors, in an adrenalin-drenched dash that seems more roller derby than Olympic event.
It’s incredible that both Del Bosco and ski cross have made it this far. In 2003, ski cross was still a fringe sport practised by the berserker fringe of the ski community—people like Del Bosco, who once woke up in a ditch with a broken neck and hypothermia, after a night of partying. It was the low point of a lengthy downward spiral. At 17, he was stripped of two U.S. national titles in alpine skiing and mountain biking after testing positive for GHB, a rave drug, and marijuana, resulting in a two-year suspension from all U.S. ski competitions. As part of his recovery, he joined Alcoholics Anonymous—Del Bosco stopped drinking for good in September 2006, the same year ski cross became an official Olympic sport.
His story of debauchery and redemption has made for a compelling narrative in a sport dominated by outsized, often unhinged characters. “I just put it out there,” says Del Bosco, “so no one can dig it up and say I was hiding something. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t got my act together.” And he wouldn’t be a strong medal contender for Canada this month if not for Cam Bailey, the investment-banker-cum-oilman and ski cross enthusiast tapped to develop Canada’s ski cross team. Though Del Bosco hails from Vail, Colo., and raced as an American throughout his early career, his father is Canadian, making him eligible for Team Canada. Bailey gave Del Bosco “my last second chance”—and he was reborn as an Olympic ski crosser. “I’d squandered so many opportunities,” says Del Bosco, “and this time I was going to get my life together.” He certainly did. Del Bosco, 27, is currently ranked third in the world, and recently won the final World Cup race at New York’s Whiteface Mountain.
Ski cross is one of the more intense Olympic disciplines. Races, which cover 800 to 1,000 vertical feet and last roughly 60 seconds, are marked by speed, huge jumps and the inevitable contact between racers. “It’s like NASCAR versus Formula One,” says Del Bosco. “Alpine racers think they can come into it and win against all these jokers. They might win the time trials, but it’s a different story when you’re up against three other guys at the same time.” On his own chances of reaching the podium this month, Del Bosco doesn’t seem all that stressed. After all, at least he’s got a shot.