By Stuart Miller-Davis
As Dustin Cook lays to rest his career as a competitive alpine skier, one thing he’s going to miss most is the time he’s shared with his teammates.
“The little memories that you have being with teammates and living life on the road – that’s something that I’ll miss and won’t be able to get back ever again because it’s such a unique thing,” Cook told the Ottawa Sportspage after announcing his retirement from competition in early March.
Ski racing is, naturally, an individualistic sport, but Cook said the most memorable moments in his career were such because of the people he had around him.
“For sure the best seasons and results I had when we had like a really cohesive group,” Cook said. “If you’re not with people you enjoy being with, it’s not all that much fun.”
Cook identified the 2015 season as the best of his career. In that year, he captured a silver medal in the super-G at the World Alpine Ski Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado. The victory made him the first Canadian to win a super-G world championship medal. Later in the season he returned to the podium with a 3rd-place finish at the Kvitfjell, Norway World Cup, before finishing the 2015 campaign with a gold medal at the Meribel, France World Cup Finals.
Cook also represented Canada at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where he had the highest finishing of any Canadian male alpine skier, coming in 9th place in the super-G.
In late January, Cook posted on Instagram that he’d decided to take a step away from ski racing to reassess his future and hopefully finish the season strong.
“I felt like I needed that break to assess whether or not I wanted to keep racing,” he said. “I hadn’t been feeling that great about things and wasn’t in the best mental space so that break was kind of just to assess where I was at without the stress of racing.”
Then in early March, in another post, Cook said “it’s been a hell of a ride, but all things must come to an end.” He had planned to make the Kvitfjell stop in the World Cup circuit his final race, but it was cancelled because of bad weather.
“In that time, I realized that I didn’t want to keep racing and I didn’t really have the fire to keep going. Being at home and being with friends and doing all the normal things I’ve been missing for so many years just nailed that point home,” he said.
While reflecting on his career, Cook said he’s especially valued the ski racing community in the national capital region, which he said is one of the groups he’s seen who are most passionate about his sport.
“One of the things that I really cherish is the support felt along the way of all the people in my life that helped me along the way and made my career happen,” he said. “And the Ottawa community was an absolutely amazing part of that.”
Cook also said he’s excited to watch up-and-coming racers such as 18-year-old Aidan Marler, who competed for the first time this year at the Junior World Ski Championships. Marler’s home mountain is Mont Ste-Marie, which he and Cook share. Cook has both a training centre and a run named after him at the hill.
“I have a lot of hope and I know we have some good athletes,” Cook said. “I’m pretty confident about the Ottawa region itself. (It) has some good coaches and some good people, so I’m pretty psyched for that group.”
For the national program he’s leaving behind, Cook says he sees a difficult financial challenge ahead because of the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we have a tough road ahead of us because the funding is not there,” he said. “I think the team that I left behind, the actual national team, the young guys coming up, are (a) really solid group of people and a really solid group of athletes. We’ll see, but I have high hopes for them. But going further than that, I think it’s a tough road for Canadian skiing, honestly.”
While Cook says he’s leaving the competitive ski world primarily due to the physical strain on his body, he’s long from taking his last chairlift.
“I’ll ski for the rest of my life, at least for as long as my body will allow it,” he said. “There’s a reason I’m retiring. It’s because I need a little bit of a break from the sport, but I see myself getting back in some capacity.”