Alpine Canada is home to three of Canada’s fastest and most exciting snow sports: alpine, ski cross and para-alpine ski racing. Each sport has a different set of rules, but each athlete has the same goal: get to the bottom of the mountain faster than anyone else.
Over the last half century, Alpine Canada’s athletes have done just that – winning 29 world championship medals, 12 Olympic medals, 91 Paralympic medals, 12 X Games medals and dozens of World Cup podiums.
Here’s a look back at some of Alpine Canada’s proudest moments. Please note, complete lists of all medal winners are located at the bottom of this page.
Alpine Canada’s history of champions started in 1956 when Montreal’s Lucile Wheeler won Canada’s first Olympic alpine medal – a bronze in downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Two years later, she went on to win double gold at the world championships, starting a Canadian tradition of skiing excellence that would eventually rival any country in the world.
In 1960, Anne Heggtveit became the first Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal in slalom at the Winter Games in Squaw Valley, USA. In 1967, Canada’s Nancy Greene won the World Cup overall title in the very first alpine World Cup season. She went on to win the title again in 1968, the same year she won gold and silver at the Grenoble (France) Olympic Games in giant slalom and slalom. In 1999, Greene was named Canada’s Female Athlete of the Century by the Canadian Press.
In the '70s, Canada’s Crazy Canucks - including Ken Read, Steve Podborski, Dave Irwin and Dave Murray - conquered race courses with their bold and daring racing style and proved to the world that you didn’t need to be European to win ski races. In 1975, Read became the first non-European man to win a World Cup downhill race. Together, the Crazy Canucks earned 107 top-10 World Cup results from 1978–1984. Podborski still holds the men’s Canadian record of 20 World Cup podiums.
Also during the ‘70s, the Paralympic movement (which had started after wounded World War II veterans returned home) was gaining momentum around the world, and in 1976, the first Paralympic Games were held in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. John Gow won Canada’s first Paralympic alpine gold in slalom.
In the early '80s, Podborski made history when he became the first North American to win an Olympic medal in men's alpine after claiming bronze in downhill at Lake Placid in 1980. Two years later, he became the first North American to win the overall World Cup title in downhill.
At the 1984 Paralympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, the para-alpine team set a new Canadian record for a single Games, winning 14 alpine medals.
The ‘80s were also a time when Canada's women's alpine skiing team shone, with Laurie Graham, Karen Percy and Gerry Sorensen capturing five Olympic and world championship medals combined between 1982 and 1989.
The highlight for the women’s team came in 1988 when Karen Percy, from Banff, Alta., became a hometown hero by winning the first Canadian medal of the Calgary Olympic Games. The 21-year-old won downhill bronze on the seventh day of competition and went on to win another bronze in super-G a few days later.
The ‘90s were a ground-breaking decade for Canada’s downhill skiers. In 1992, Kerrin Lee-Gartner became the first Canadian to win gold in Olympic downhill at the Games in Albertville, France. Kate Pace continued Canada’s downhill domination the following year by winning the world championship title in Morioka, Japan. Then in 1994, Edi Podivinsky grabbed Olympic bronze in downhill in Lillehammer, Norway, a highlight of his 13-year career with Canada’s Alpine Ski Team.
By the end of the decade, a new ski sport was emerging. In 1999, skier X (or ski cross) debuted at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado, featuring six skiers racing head to head down an extreme course of jumps and banked turns. After the event, the popularity of ski cross spread across North America and Europe and was adopted by the International Ski Federation in 2002 as one of its official ski sports.
The Canadian men’s alpine team began a new era of excellence with Thomas Grandi, a technical specialist, who recorded nine World Cup podiums and inspired the next generation of alpine ski racers. That generation of skiers became known as the Canadian Cowboys.
The Canadian Cowboys – François Bourque, Erik Guay, Jan Hudec, Michael Janyk, John Kucera and Manuel Osborne-Paradis – all won World Cup or world championship medals between 2003 and 2010. In 2009, Kucera became the first Canadian male to win a world championship gold medal in downhill with a famous victory in Val d'Isere, France. The Cowboys made Canada’s men’s team a threat on the world stage once again.
While alpine athletes were racking up podiums, Canada was gathering a team of skiers to challenge the ski cross podium at the sport’s first Olympic Games in Vancouver. In 2007, Canada unveiled its first official national ski cross team.
Canada’s para-alpine ski team was making history as well. In 2007, Karolina Wisniewska, eight-time Paralympic medallist, became the first Paralympian to be inducted into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame.
Making history now
In 2010, Canada established itself as arguably the best ski cross nation in the world after the Canadian ski cross team swept the men’s podium at the 2010 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado. A few months later, ski cross made its debut at the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, B.C., where Whistler’s Ashleigh McIvor made history by winning the first women’s ski cross Olympic gold medal.
At the 2010 Paralympic Games, B.C.’s Lauren Woolstencroft won gold in all five of her events on home soil. She retired after the Games with a career total of 10 Paralympic medals.
In 2011, Alpine Canada’s athletes were on top of the world once again as Canada’s Chris Del Bosco and Kelsey Serwa won double gold at the ski cross world championships in Deer Valley, Utah. Alpine skier Erik Guay proved himself as one of the best Canadian speed skiers of all time by winning gold in downhill at the world championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Later that season, he claimed his 15th World Cup podium, putting him second only to Steve Podborski in Canadian men’s World Cup podiums.
Also in 2011, Chris Williamson, from Markham, Ont., made para-alpine history in Arta Terme, Italy, when he stepped on the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) World Cup podium for the 100th time in his career.
In 2012, Jan Hudec, Guay and Ben Thomsen proved to the world that Canada’s speed team is a force to be reckoned with when they finished 1-3-5, respectively, in the World Cup downhill in Chamonix, France. It was the best result for the men’s team since 1994, when Ed Podivinsky and Cary Mullen were first and second in Saalbach, Austria.
A month later on March 4, 2012, a beaming 21-year-old Erin Mielzynski landed on the cover of Canada’s national newspapers with her first top-10 World Cup finish. Mielzynski, of Guelph, Ont., captured a gold medal in slalom in Ofterschwang, Germany, and became the first Canadian to win a World Cup slalom race in more than 40 years. The last Canadian to stand atop a World Cup slalom podium had been Betsy Clifford in 1971.
Another young, female skier made history in 2012. At 19 years old, Marielle Thompson, of Whistler, B.C., became the first Canadian to win an individual ski cross Crystal Globe after only her second season on the World Cup circuit.
Read about all Alpine Canada’s past medallists: