There were the Crazy Canucks. Then the Canadian Cowboys.
Now another group of young skiers hailing from right here on the North Shore is trying to follow the same high-speed paths taken by those fun and fast Canadian racing forebears. North Vancouver’s Brodie Seger, Riley Seger, Cam Alexander and Asher Jordan, along with Vancouver’s Sam Mulligan, who grew up skiing with Grouse Mountain’s Tyee Ski Club, are all now affiliated with Alpine Canada’s national team program.
All under the age of 23, they have tasted success at junior and senior racing levels and appear poised to be part of the next generation of great Canadian racers. West Vancouver’s Stefanie Fleckenstein is part of the crew too, recovering from injury at the moment but on the roster of the women’s national team. There are other young North Shore skiers as well, nipping at their heels as they race for positions on the national team.
So the question is, do they as a group of North Shore speedsters already have a fun nickname to group them together like the Canucks or Cowboys?
“There have been a lot of people asking us about that,” Mulligan said with a laugh. “We’ve kind of joked about a couple of things, but ultimately I think we need to go out and get the results first and sort of prove ourselves. I think that stuff comes down more to the people and the fans, maybe they’ll come up with something one day. But for now we need to establish ourselves first.”
“We’ve got to show people that we can do it,” added Brodie Seger. When the North Shore News caught up with them by phone, Seger and Mulligan were in Panorama, B.C., enjoying an off-day on the Nor-Am Cup circuit, which is one wrung down the ladder from the World Cup. One day before, Mulligan won Super G gold in a Nor-Am race, and two days before Mulligan and Seger finished second and third, respectively, in another Nor-Am Super G.
The duo has 14 total World Cup starts and 15 total Nor-Am medals between them, leading the way for this young group itching to make an impact on the international stage. They aren’t, at least in their own estimation, nickname worthy yet. But they may have a chance to prove themselves a little sooner than they ever imagined.
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Nov. 21 was a shocking day for the Canadian men’s alpine team. Veteran Manuel Osborne-Paradis, another North Vancouver native, crashed in training for the season-opening World Cup downhill in Lake Louise, snapping his leg. His teammates watched as Manny was helicoptered off the mountain and rushed to hospital where he would stay for the next 15 days.
The crash shook Erik Guay, the team’s most decorated racer, so much that he announced his retirement that day. The veteran Guay was supposed to retire at the end of this season, but the sight of Manny going down was enough for him to put the racing skis away and head home to hang out with his family.
On top of all that, just one week before, veteran racer Broderick Thompson had blown out a knee, ending his season.
Seger and Mulligan were there in Lake Louise, watching it all unfold. Just like that, three of the top racers in the country were wiped out, at least for the season.
“Those weeks for the team were pretty intense,” said Mulligan. “You always know (injuries) can happen, but when it happens that close to home – we all work so hard, we know how hard everyone works. To see someone have to miss time like that, you definitely feel it as a team. The coaching staff and everyone were a bit more on edge, but we tried our best to stay the course and keep it positive.”
For the young racers, there was a mixture of emotions. Suddenly there were spots open on the team, but also anxiety over injured friends as well as personal pressure, if not public pressure, for them to step up and replace their injured teammates.
“I felt it, personally,” Mulligan said of the increased pressure to perform following the injuries and retirement. “That’s not the way you want things to go, obviously, but it did present us with a bit of an opportunity at the same time. All of a sudden we had a couple more spots available. It’s a strange feeling, because that’s not what you want – obviously you don’t want your teammates going down – but then we had this opportunity and it kind of makes you feel like you have to make the most of it because you want to carry the team, in a way.”
“You’re not expecting to just go in and be Erik Guay, or fill in for Manny – those are huge roles that those guys have had,” added Seger. “I don’t think anyone was expecting that of us necessarily, but I think when someone gets injured you want to do well for them, in a sense. I know Broderick and Manny and Erik, they were all super supportive of us.”
Mulligan and Seger both raced the Lake Louise downhill and tasted World Cup action again a week later at Beaver Creek. There were no miracle podiums, but it was more experience for the two, both expecting to go back on the World Cup circuit on some of the European monster hills in the New Year. They know they have big boots to fill.
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The young North Shore racers are quick to credit those who have come before them for getting them up to speed. Mulligan recalled going to Cowboy Camp run by Manny and West Vancouver native Mike Janyk when he was 16 years old.
“It was just fun,” said Mulligan. “The whole thing about that camp is just enjoying skiing and enjoying racing. I think that gets lost a lot when people are trying to be so competitive and it’s so results based. But I think those guys, Mike and Manny, do such a good job of enjoying what they do. It’s all about how it feels to ski race, and how lucky we are to do that. If you can just appreciate where you are and how lucky you are to be doing something, then that’s when you can be motivated. If you’re passionate about something, that’s how you can get results and doing something you maybe thought was impossible.”
They’ve all enjoyed their time hanging out with and learning from the vets, added Seger.
“They care about ushering in the next generation,” he said. “They don’t want to just go out on top – they want to make sure that there are fast skiers coming in to replace them, and that Canadian ski racing will continue to be strong. That’s one of the best things about having them as role models and teammates – they want to help us develop and see us move into their place.”
There are other young racers from across Canada who are ready to jump into the starting gates, but for sheer numbers the North Shore crew is quite remarkable.
Brodie Seger, at age 22, is the elder statesman of the group. He’s made nine World Cup starts, his best result a 43rd in downhill at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in January. Mulligan describes Seger as a racer that has worked hard for every inch of snow he’s carved.
“His greatest strengths are probably his organization and the way he goes about his business,” said Mulligan. “He’s very professional, just doing what he needs to do, in the gym, in the summertime, keeping on top of his body. … Brodie, and his brother Riley is the same way, these are guys that when they are fast, it’s because they’ve put in all the work. No one will be surprised that they’re fast, no one will question that they got there by luck.”
The Seger boys grew up in the Whistler Ski Club along with Alexander and Fleckenstein. Riley Seger, 16 months younger than his brother, scored a bronze medal in downhill at the 2016 national championships, while Alexander just earned his first Nor-Am cup medal, a downhill silver on Dec. 6.
Mulligan may be the most decorated of the bunch. He has nine total Nor-Am Cup medals and has made five World Cup starts, his top finish a 48th place at the legendary Kitzbuehel course in January. He won silver in downhill at the 2018 Junior World Championships in January.
“One of the things I admire about Sam is his ability to really send it when he needs to,” said Brodie Seger. “He’s not only a strong technical skier but he can give a very strong tactical approach as well, and he knows how to risk it and be smart when he needs to.”
Both Seger boys, Mulligan and Alexander are all classified as members of Alpine Canada’s Europa Cup team, while Jordan, a couple years younger than most of the crew, is a member of the national development team. Many of them have known each other for years, some since elementary school. Ski racing is an individual sport, but this tight-knit group has worked as a team to push each other on the hill, said Seger.
“We’re always competitors, but I think that’s one of the reasons we are so good as a team,” he said. “We understand that the only way we’re going to be more successful as individuals is if we push each other as a team. Especially in the summer when we’re in the gym and stuff – we’re not competitors then because there’s no reason to be against each other then. We do our best to lift each other up at that point. When it comes to training on snow, we’re always pushing each other. We’re always competing with each other but we know that’s because that’s the only way that we’re all going to get better. If one person is skiing super fast one day, everybody is just that much more hungry to catch up to them.”
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They haven’t earned that group nickname yet, but the North Shore crew is proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish so far on the slopes.
“I’m really proud of it,” said Seger. “First of all, I love where we live and where we come from and I think it’s really cool that we also have this group that has known each other for such a long time and we’re all kind of moving up together.”
“I think it just goes to show that the guys who came before us like Manny or Robbie Dixon or the Pridy brothers or Mike Janyk … we were lucky to have them in B.C. when we were growing up and the job they did to stay involved in the sport and mentor us on the way up,” added Mulligan. “It was pretty special the system we got to come up through, and just to see guys had success before us and had coaches that could guide us there, it really just made it possible.”
They have big goals too, and hope that someday soon they’ll make a name for themselves.
“We want to be showing up at these World Cups and being the guys that could win it on any given day,” said Mulligan. “There’s been these phases of Canadians – the Cowboys or Canucks – where on the global stage they were recognized as the guys that were out there and you never knew what they were going to do, but they could be super fast on any given day. I think if we can bring that, and maintain our culture and show how much fun we’re having doing it, I think that’s sort of our goal as a group.”
“We want to be that next named generation,” said Seger. “We want to fill these guys’ shoes and we want to continue to show that Canada can be one of the best ski racing nations in the world.”
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The North Shore crew and other young West Coast racers will be holding a fundraiser in support of their training and racing program on Thursday, Dec. 27 starting at 8 p.m. at Whistler’s Buffalo Bills. Tickets, $40, include two drinks, appies, oysters and live entertainment. For more information visit showpass.com/aimingforthepodium.