HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-at-Home Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Jared Schmidt will tell you he wasn’t the best alpine ski racer. But when he got a text message from 2018 Olympic ski-cross silver medallist Brittany Phelan to try her daring discipline, a door opened.
The Dunrobin skier took her advice in 2018 and has slowly worked his way through the ski-cross ranks: national C team, Nor-Am Cup/Europa Cup competitions and now the World Cup. He liked it so much he asked older sister Hannah to try it.
Hannah Schmidt, however, was an accomplished technical skier from 2009-18, winning 36 medals, including 12 gold at the regional and university levels. After earning her BA in criminology from Carleton University, she accepted Jared’s invitation.
“(I) came out west for the (2018) ski-cross nationals and that was the beginning of my ski-cross journey,” Hannah wrote in an email interview. “I was asked after nationals to come to spring camp and was asked on the development team.”
Her 2018-19 introduction to racing against three other alpine skiers down a twisty-turny course with jumps and rollers was notable with two top-six Nor-Am Cup results and a second-place showing at a FIS race in Ontario.
An experienced alpine skier at 26 but an eager newcomer to ski cross, Hannah stepped up her production last season, winning one gold, two silver and three bronze medals on the Nor-Am Cup circuit, where she placed third overall.
Hannah and Jared were both in contention for 2019 Nor-Am Cup overall titles before suffering season-ending knee injuries while competing in Europe.
Back in shape and ready to race this season, the pandemic has created unexpected opportunities for the Schmidts in a roundabout way.
In normal times, being a national C team development skier would mean skiing on the Europa Cup circuit. But it was uncertain those meets would unfold this season, and Canada was blessed with numerous entries for World Cup events.
That was good news for Hannah and Jared as they raced four times against the best in the world last month in Arosa, Switzerland, and Val Thorens, France. They plan to return to Europe later this month for the final nine World Cup stops, ending March 21.
“The World Cup season has been hard, but amazing at the same time. To be able to race in difficult times… I am very thankful that I still get to race,” wrote Hannah, who views her first full World Cup season as a learning opportunity.
Hannah, who made her World Cup debut in 2019 at Blue Mountain, Ont., reached two quarterfinals, placing 12th in Val Thorens and not finishing in Arosa. She also tied for 17th in Arosa and had no result in her other Val Thorens race.
At the same time, Jared, who finished fourth overall on the 2019 Nor-Am Cup circuit with three firsts and two seconds, also has started four World Cup races. He has had four first-round eliminations and results in the 40s.
“I am gaining more and more confidence each race,” Hannah continued. “For me, I need that confidence and to stay calm, when it comes down to race time. So for me, that will be the key to making it into semifinals or finals.
“As soon as I raced ski-cross that first time, I was hooked. It has taken me a little bit to adjust to different aspects of ski cross, and I am still adjusting. The fundamentals of skiing were all there for me.
“It was more an adjustment to (course) features (like) rollers, jumps and different features on a ski-cross course. I can say that I am still not 100 per cent accustomed to ski-cross, but I have come a long way in two years.”
When Hannah finishes a race, she wants “to go back up right away and do it again.” But to do that, she must deal with the hard part, finishing in the top two positions of her four-skier heat to get to the next round.
Hannah and Jared are fortunate to ski on a national team that has successful skiers like World Cup men’s leader Reece Howden of Cultus Lake, B.C., and women’s 2014 Olympic and 2019 world champion Marielle Thompson of North Vancouver.
“I love being able to be on the World Cup circuit with my brother. We help each other a lot with skiing and are both very competitive. To be able to experience this with him is awesome. It’s also nice to have family to travel with.
“We are hoping to be able to race more World Cups, but anything is possible right now with all the travel restrictions happening. But I am staying positive and hope to have a good rest of the season,” added Hannah, who is ranked 18th on the World Cup standings.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for over 47 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.