Fifteen-year-old Olivia Mcneill only started competing in freeride skiing three years ago and she’s already made it to the top.
The Whistler athlete captured gold in the IFSA North America Freeride Championships during the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. She was the lone female waving the maple leaf on the podium, marking the end of a good season. The Grade 9 student’s overall points in her age pool, which included girls older than her, placed her as the top IFSA female athlete in North America.
Being “super competitive” wasn’t Mcneill’s main motivator to initially enter freeride competitions, she said. Mcneill started skiing when she was seven years old. She loved swishing down the slopes at high speeds, but quickly realized that racing wasn’t her thing. So she left the alpine club and joined Whistler Blackcomb Mountain Adventure Program (MAP). Led by coaches, the group of youth explored all types of terrain. After three years with MAP, Mcneill tried out for the Whistler Freeride Club.
“Luckily for me, I got in,” she said. “That year I also decided to try out some competitions and it’s just grown from there. Many decisions were quite spontaneous, but I am so happy that I did and that I am where I am now.”
Originally it didn’t dawn on Mcneill to seek out such events. But her reputation as a confident skier surpassed her. On her first day with the freeride club, one of the coaches informed her that they had heard so much about her. It was unexpected, Mcneill said, noting a few weeks later she heard about the comp team. With the encouragement of her coaches, she checked it out.
“So I would really say what drove me to compete was not only the fact that I am super competitive in basically anything I do, but also the faith that my coaches and others around me have in me. It was super important to me then, and still drives me today,” Mcneill said.
Freeriding gives athletes the freedom to make choices, she continued, and that’s what she loves about the activity. It’s never boring. Then there’s the added thrill of jumping off cliffs, she added.
“But my favourite part, I must say, is the community. We’re only competitors for a few minutes, when we ski down our run, and for the rest of it, we’re a team,” she said. “At the bottom of runs there’s always a group of people, from all over the place to congratulate the skier and it’s an incredible thing.”
While ending the season on a high note, the winter came with its share of ups and downs, Mcneill said. She crashed and lost skis in her first two competitions, followed by another one soon after. In the other four competitions Mcneill competed in, she walked away with gold.
“I either crash or do well, which is honestly what I’d like to do. I’d rather give it my all and fail doing something awesome, than sort of do it and do OK,” she said. “For me it’s not really about the result of my run, it’s how I feel while doing my run. Go big or go home, I guess. Sometimes you don’t make it and that’s OK.”
Next winter Mcneill will move up a category. She aims to once again give it her all and not look back on runs with any regrets. Someday, she said she’d like to qualify for worlds.
“I’d also like to feel really great about all of my runs, and execute the things I’d like to be able to execute,” she said.