WHISTLER, B.C. (May 18, 2012) – One of the pioneers of the sport of ski cross and a founding member of the all-conquering Canadian team announced his retirement on Friday.
Davey Barr, of Whistler, B.C., was part of the original group of racers who helped build the sport from humble beginnings and famously became the first man to win a ski cross World Cup race in North America.
The 35-year-old leaves with many special memories and a glittering resumé, having started out as a member of the Rossignol ski cross team that competed at the early World Cups in Europe. After the Canadian ski cross team was formed in 2007, he went on to win a world championship medal and represent Canada as ski cross made its Olympic debut in his home province in 2010.
“It’s kind of ironic that at the start I was one of the only Canadians competing and then all of a sudden, as the years went by Canada had one of the largest and most successful teams. We always worked together as a team and learned from each other,” said Barr, a former alpine racer who was formerly part of the B.C. Ski Team.
“Winning the first World Cup held in North America was pretty cool. I will always have that, which is awesome. Then getting a world championship medal and competing at the Olympics, those were the biggest highlights for me.”
Barr made the switch to ski cross after watching the X Games skier X event on TV. Skier X features six racers going head to head instead of the usual four.
“I was coaching in Whistler and on one of my days off there was a ski cross race, so I decided to do it,” Barr said. “My friend and I ended up first and second. From there, I decided to try X Games. I had to qualify for it but I got in for that and then did a U.S. tour as well.”
Barr recalls winning silver in ultra cross at X Games 10 in 2005 before becoming a member of the Rossignol team, an international factory team that competed in World Cup events in Europe.
“Just to have some support was really cool. We had a technician and a team manager,” Barr said. “We just sort of did things. We were trying to figure out the sport. We were testing different skis, different poles, a whole bunch of different stuff. In addition to me there were a whole bunch of French racers and Peter Lind, from Sweden. We were in Europe doing kind of a World Cup tour. A lot of times I was the only Canadian over there (Stanley Hayer, Anik Demers and Aleisha Cline were among the others).”
Eric Archer, head coach of the Canadian team, said Barr embraced the joy of skiing that was such an integral part of the emerging sport of ski cross.
“I do consider him to be one of the pioneers,” Archer said. “He was a little bit behind the earlier guys but he jumped in with both feet and got involved in Europe, competing in the early World Cups. He got to evolve with the sport from the beginning to what it has become now. He was able to be a competitive racer through that whole period of time.”
Barr was one of the original members of the Canadian ski cross team, which began competing in 2007-08. Coached by Archer, the team comprised the likes of Barr, Hayer, Chris Del Bosco, Ashleigh McIvor, Dave Duncan, Brian Bennett, Cam Culbert and Julia Murray.
“We would always train together and ski together. That was kind of the beginning,” said Del Bosco, the reigning ski cross world champion. “Davey’s an amazing skier. He has the whole package as far as the alpine background, big-mountain skiing in Whistler, picking lines and racing. He was really good in the air, good starts . . .
“Davey was definitely one of the pioneers and one of the top guys out there. It’s going to be kind of a bummer without Brian (Bennett, who recently retired) and Davey. They were there from the start.”
When the World Cup tour expanded in 2008, Barr won the very first event held in North America, in Deer Valley, Utah.
“It was huge. I had already been at it for a few years and I knew what it took to win. It was tough, even then,” Barr said. “I had (U.S. superstar Daron) Rahlves, (Swiss racer and soon to be Olympic gold medallist Michael) Schmid and (U.S. ace) Casey Puckett in the final – it was a tough one.
“I had been watching Rahlves do this move – he started the second corner high and came in low. I was third out of the gate and he was behind me. I totally stole his line, Puckett and Schmid had contact and I was able to get past them. It was quite the feeling. It’s funny because I made the pass and knew I still had a minute to go! But it was great. It gave me some confidence. I also had a second place in Meiringen (Switzerland) that year.”
A year later Barr claimed the bronze medal at the world championships in Inawashiro, Japan.
Barr’s dream of competing at the Olympics came true in 2010, but only after two days of incredible drama that saw him go from being an alternate to one of three Canadian men – Del Bosco and Hayer were the others – in the start gate as the sport made its debut in Vancouver.
“The year before the Olympics I was third at world champs and third at Cypress,” said Barr, pointing out that he was in a great position to make the Canadian team with qualification dependent on results from 2008-09 and 2009-10. “That summer I didn’t work so I could focus on training and Olympics and I felt I couldn’t really go wrong. But when I came into the season I couldn’t get a top 10 for the life of me. It just got worse and worse as the deadline got closer.”
Barr didn’t make the team but he was named the second alternate behind teammate Brady Leman, of Calgary, Alta.
“Two days before the race I was testing everyone else’s skis on the other side of Cypress,” Barr said. “I’m looking over my shoulder at the Olympic ski cross track and all kinds of thoughts were going through my head. It was unbelievable. (Dave) Duncan hurt himself that day and Brady was in.
“Then, the next day I was going up the chair and I saw a group coming down. I could see someone had crashed and I was like, ‘Oh no.’ I later found out it was Brady and that was quite a rollercoaster of emotions for both of us – he was out and I was in.
“I remember getting changed shortly after I found out. I just walked up to Brady and gave him a hug. Then I basically left to drive to Squamish (B.C.) to get my race skis and brought them back to Cypress.
“(Ski cross director of sport) Dave Ellis told me to go to a place called the Sin Bin and hang out there while he ran around sorting out accreditation. So I had dinner in the bar and finally got the call. I moved into the village at 8 p.m. The night before the race I watched a bunch of video. I slept in one of the tech’s bed. I had missed two days of training and in retrospect it kind of took the pressure away a little bit. Just do what you can – that’s all you can do.”
Barr finished a creditable sixth in the men’s race. Del Bosco famously went out in the final and ended up fourth, while Barr’s teammate McIvor won gold in the women’s race.
“It was pretty crazy, for sure,” Barr said. “I got a bit lucky in a couple of rounds but I felt I skied pretty well. I’m happy with sixth. I’m happy that I got to compete.”
Canada has been the No. 1 team on the World Cup circuit for several years, having won its fourth consecutive Nations’ Cup title at the end of the 2011-12 season. Bennett said Barr’s experience and passion for the sport helped create a foundation that has allowed new additions to Canada’s team to have great success.
“I met Davey back when he was racing alpine and I was on the B.C. Ski Team,” Bennett said. “He was always one of the first guys out of the hotel and up the hill in the morning. He was always excited to go out there and ski.
“He’s definitely a pioneer. He’s a big part of the base of this team. If he hadn’t been there the development of the team – and the success it had – might not have happened.”
McIvor, the first female ski cross Olympic gold medallist, credits Barr with helping her find balance as a full-time athlete.
“Davey has always inspired me to make time for our other sports, like downhill mountain biking or dirt biking, or even free skiing; this has made me almost as well-rounded athletically as he is, which has been key to my success,” McIvor said. “I have to say I really wouldn’t have been where I’m at if it weren’t for him. He’s always pushed me to keep at it, and I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons from him.”
McIvor added that her good friend is a naturally-talented skier who “showed me that this sport was built for people like us.”
“We grew up in Whistler training for ski cross, though it didn't actually exist in its current format, but to us it is just like racing our buddies from the top of the mountain to the bottom, with all sorts of awesome features thrown in,” McIvor said. “Davey was racing ski cross from the very beginning, and he always treated me like a teammate - even before there was any sort of team. We both got into the sport when the events were more about the parties, and then managed to hold our own when the world’s best alpine athletes . . . tried to take over. I can’t even count the number of times Davey led me down a course, allowing me to get a full run under my belt and ease the nerves I was feeling, before having to run it on my own.”
Murray, Barr’s longtime teammate on the hill and girlfriend off it, said ski cross is a sport that allowed him to “put all of his natural athletic abilities to the test.”
“Each teammate could always put their trust in him when it came to figuring out techy courses,” she said. “Davey’s career in ski cross may be done, but his love for competition will carry on in other endless aspects of life. Davey’s reached so many goals in sport, and I am excited to see what he conjures up for the rest of his life. His excitement for the future is contagious.”
Barr, who began contemplating retirement shortly before 2010, was fortunate to enjoy a long career in ski racing without suffering any serious injuries.
“I was thinking about retiring after the Olympics but I said, ‘I’ll see if I can get to Sochi and make that a goal.’ But I also said I would go year by year,” Barr said.
“This year I had a bad start with a bit of knee cartilage. I missed two races and didn’t really get my head into it. I started thinking about it more and more.”
Barr’s final World Cup race was in Grindelwald, Switzerland, in March, where his teammate Nik Zoricic was involved in a crash and tragically passed away.
“To me Nik was a true friend who was always there to vent with and discuss life,” Barr said. “We connected on more than just a competitive level. He will remain with me forever, that’s for sure.”
Barr will have plenty to keep him busy in retirement. The proud father of a five-year-old girl, he recently resumed working for his dad’s company, Don Barr Consulting Ltd., In Whistler – something he’s done most summers throughout his ski career.
“I’m looking at finishing my apprenticeship for carpentry. I started it in 2005 and then I got full on into ski cross,” Barr said. “I want to do some ski cross coaching around Whistler, maybe help with the World Cup at Nakiska and Blue Mountain.”
Barr’s decision to call time on his ski career doesn’t mean he’ll spend less time on the hill.
“In all honesty I will probably be skiing more than I was when I was competing. With all that travel you are basically skiing half the time,” Barr said. “The thing I will miss is seeing the new courses. Even if you came back to the same hill, it was often a different course.
“But I’m so excited to play hard now. Not much is going to hold me back.”
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