By Martin Boyce
With the changing sceneries and unpredictability on the road to his first Olympics, alpine skier Dustin Cook takes comfort from one constant in his life: craft beer.
Cook, a super-G specialist and Mont Ste. Marie product, says he developed a ritual of having one craft beer from home the night before race day. It all started in 2014, before what turned out to be the 28-year-old’s best race of his career at the time.
“It’s just a nice way to keep things as normal as possible,” suggests Cook. “You’re on the road and everything is always different so if you can keep one thing constant, that’s nice.”
Having missed qualification in 2010 and 2014, the self-proclaimed craft beer nerd is finally bound for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. Qualifying with an 11th place finish in his first race of the season in Lake Louise in Alberta, he’ll be taking his ritual with him to his first Games.
“It was a little bit of relief,” he admits. “I was happy to have it in the pocket right off the bat in the first race of the year.”
It has been a long journey for Cook – one that began before the soon-to-be Olympian was even two years old.
Before moving to Ottawa, he spent his early childhood skiing in Collingwood, north of Toronto, and instantly fell in love with the thrill of the high-speed sport.
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“They say they couldn’t get me off the hill I loved it so much,” he smiles, noting it was his ski-instructor parents that brought him onto slopes. “I never really stopped from there.”
Young racers don’t train for the faster disciplines like super G and downhill, and rarely get the opportunity to race them until provincial championships, when they get older. Cook, despite this lack of experience, found himself achieving his best results in super G.
“It’s the perfect blend of GS and downhill. You’ve got the tactics and the speed but you’ve also got the technical ability that you need. I love all the events but super G just clicks with me. That’s the best way I can put it,” he laughs.
Quickly rising up the ranks of Canadian skiing, earning a stint with Team Quebec before reaching the national team, the Nepean High School alumnus gradually cemented himself as one of the top super-G racers in the world.
Coming off the best season of his career in 2015, having raced to his first World Cup win in Méribel, France, a World Championship silver in Beaver Creek, Colorado and a 5th place ranking in the discipline, Cook suffered a harrowing blow the following season: a torn ACL.
“The mental part was definitely harder than I thought it would be,” he reflects, noting it was his first break from the sport in roughly 15 years. “To go a whole year without racing or training or that kind of intensity was a little more difficult than I thought it would be.”
He says the physical recovery couldn’t have gone smoother but the return to racing-form was slower than anticipated, despite hovering around the top 15 mark in the World Cup standings.
“If I could do anything differently in the recovery process, it would be to not be on the road so much last year,” he signals. “It just kind of mentally killed me.”
He says the constant grind culminated in an uncharacteristic wipeout at the World Championships last season, the lowest point for him during his comeback.
“I kind of lost it after that,” he recalls, “just went home, took a full week and didn’t ski, didn’t think about skiing and came back a little bit refreshed.”
He says while after that race he didn’t want to talk to anyone, his family, girlfriend and closest friends provided “invaluable” support throughout the process.
“They kind of understand where you’re coming from in terms of being mentally fatigued or completely just pissed off,” he highlights. “Without them it would be significantly more difficult.”
With three strong World Cup finishes this season, Cook says he’s gaining more and more confidence as the Olympics creep closer.
“It’s a different thing between skiing to finish and skiing because you know you’re going to win a race – which is the point I was at a couple years ago,” he notes. “Now that I’m back in the rankings a little bit, I’m trying to let loose a little more and get back on the podium.”
While his injury was a setback, he says his passion for racing and that “feeling like no other” of being in and out of control, rattling down an icy slope looking to go even faster isn’t going anywhere.
“I still enjoy doing it now so I don’t really know why I would stop, especially when all my goals and dreams as a kid are slowly coming true.”
Wed., Feb. 14 Men’s Super-G 9 p.m. ET
Sat., Feb. 17 Men’s Giant Slalom 8:15 p.m.