Elite Amateur Sport Skiing

Schmidt siblings vault into Olympic consideration with breakout ski cross seasons

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Hannah Schmidt. File photo

By Dan Plouffe

There were certainly ups and downs through 6 straight months of living out of a suitcase and taking roughly 40 COVID tests each so they could compete on the World Cup ski cross circuit, but even after a tiring season and then serving a 14-day quarantine together back at home, Jared and Hannah Schmidt still “get along pretty well for siblings,” attests the big sister.

“It’s nice to have family on the road,” says Hannah, 26. “My team’s very much like a family, a lot of us are very supportive towards each other, but actually having a family member definitely kind of makes it feel more like home.”

No doubt it helped that both siblings came back to Canada satisfied with their debut World Cup seasons that took them all over Europe. At the start of the year, the relative ski cross newcomers were coming off injuries and were only pegged to compete in continental series events, but Canada was offered additional World Cup entries due to the pandemic, and the Dunrobin skiers took full advantage.

In the biggest race of the year, Hannah earned a top-10 finish at the World Championships as she came close to tracking down the best ski cross racer of all time in her quarter-final heat, finishing within .16 seconds (1:20.72) of Switzerland’s Fanny Smith.

“I think overall it was a really good season for me,” states Hannah, who placed 13th three times, as well as 12th, 14th & 16th in World Cup races. “I got way more comfortable and more confident in my skiing ability throughout, and kind of realized that I did deserve to be on that World Cup circuit.”

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Having only turned to ski cross a few years ago, the former Mont-Tremblant alpine racer wanted to ward off the moments of panic or distraction that often struck her from having other racers next to her, and to learn the courses on the circuit, and her competition, this year.

“It was a very good progression through the season. I learned quite a bit,” indicates the Carleton University grad. “I don’t think I’m close to my peak, but I know it’s going the right direction.”

Jared, meanwhile, experienced plenty of struggles early in his season, but eventually broke out and landed his first-career World Cup podium with a bronze medal on Feb. 27 in Georgia.

While failing to make it through qualifications and into heats, “I got down, but I think I was more upset because, like, I knew I could do it,” reflects the 23-year-old who had no problem keeping up with his Canadian teammates in training. “I was making silly mistakes. My skiing had nothing really to do with it, it was more of a mental side of things.

“I was hyping it up in my head. It was, ’Oh my God, the World Cup circuit – now you have to ski better.’ But once I got a few starts underneath my belt, it was more, ‘OK, it’s the World Cup – you don’t really need to change much.’”

On his big day, Jared found himself in the “flow state” athletes strive to achieve, where they’re aware of their surroundings, but totally zoned in on what they need to do.

Jared Schmidt hit the podium in his ninth career World Cup ski cross start on Feb. 27, 2021 in Bakuriani, Georgia. File photo

“I wasn’t really nervous. In Georgia, I was just kind of relaxed, and I was just skiing all day,” recounts the West Carleton Secondary School grad. “I sort of only realized after the fact when I got down and came third, then I was like, ‘Holy, this is a big thing, I just made it on the podium – this is pretty sweet.”

The event was Jared’s ninth career World Cup start. In each heat, he lined up next to Brady Leman, the owner of 28 medals in 121 appearances and the reigning Olympic champion, though the Canadian teammates had experienced similar frustrating seasons up to that point. The pair finished 1-2 to qualify through each of the first three rounds until Leman took a hard crash in the final.

“It would have been great to have Brady on the podium with me, but I think I fed off that a little bit – his drive to get on the podium,” notes Jared, who draws similar energy from Hannah’s strong performances.

“You can kind of thrive off that,” he adds. “Seeing her do so well makes me more motivated than ever to be consistent at that level.”

Having been in similar situations herself, Hannah says that watching her brother race is a bit like playing an arcade game.

“It’s almost like I can feel the excitement and the sense of what he’s going to do, and same with Maddy when I watch her race,” Hannah explains, referring to her Olympic-bound cousin and past competitive paddling partner Madeline Schmidt. “It’s cool to be able to kind of sympathize with them and what they’re doing.”

Olympic contenders

With their breakthrough performances this season, the Schmidt siblings have rocketed themselves into consideration for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Thirty-two athletes per gender will make it to the ski cross start line, but with a maximum of four from one country per event, their toughest competition will likely be found within Canada.

“It’s definitely motivating, to be in a good training environment where you’re training with some of the best in the world,” signals Hannah. “Everyone’s really, really supportive and we all have the same mindset – to push each other and grow as a team versus just individuals.”

Jared was 38th in this season’s World Cup standings – close to fellow Canadians Kristofor Mahler (35) and Zach Belczyk (36), and behind Crystal Globe winner Reece Howden (1), Chris Del Bosco (26) and Leman (28).

“This particular Olympics, Beijing, was not one of my main goals,” Jared notes. “I know a bunch of the other guys in the team, that’s one of their big focuses. For me, right now, it definitely gets tossed around in the back of my head, but the following one in Italy and Cortina 2026 was kind of when I’d be peaking.”

Hannah is in a similar boat.

“We have about eight or nine girls, so to make the quota, it’s going to be tough,” she highlights.

Hannah was 16th in this season’s World Cup standings – the fifth Canadian behind Marielle Thompson (3), Courtney Hoffos (6), Zoe Chore (10) and Tiana Gairns (12). Britt Phelan, the 2018 Olympic silver medallist from Mont-Tremblant who drew the Schmidts into the sport, was sidelined this year but should be in the mix as well.

“My ultimate goal is to make the Olympics. If it’s not next year, then in four or five years – I will definitely have more experience at that point,” underlines Hannah, noting she’s already made a huge jump up to the World Cup series from the continental level.

“But I think next year, it’s definitely not out of reach,” she adds. “This year, I proved that. Within five months, I made that much progression.”

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