Snow, Surf & Slab in Banff National Park

What happens when four women at the top of their diverse athletic fields come together? A no-walls conversation about the drive that transcends their passions, and an appreciation for the unique challenges of their individual paths.

World Champion rock climber Sasha DiGiulian, pro-surfer Quincy Davis and World Cup alpine ski racer Laurenne Ross met with CBC Olympic Games Overnight host Kelly VanderBeek in the epicentre of the Canadian Rockies, to learn more about the other’s craft, and take in the action at Lake Louise Ski Resort’s Alpine Ski World Cup.

DiGiulian and Davis mixed up their usually turf for some classic Canadian Rockies terrain, trading climbing shoes for ski boots, and surfboards for snowboards.

Quincy Davis takes in the action at the Women's Lake Louise Alpine World Cup weekend. Photo by Dan Evans
Quincy Davis takes in the action at the Women's Lake Louise Alpine World Cup weekend. Photo by Dan Evans

But first, shot skis. A Canmore local and former ski racer herself, VanDerBeek is familiar with the finest forms of Canadian hospitality, and wasted no time in making sure everyone felt warm and welcomed.

Kelly VanderBeek, Laurenne Ross, Sasha DiGiulian and Quincy Davis at the Chateau Lake Louise.
Kelly VanderBeek, Laurenne Ross, Sasha DiGiulian and Quincy Davis at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

From the decadent surroundings of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, VanderBeek noted the clear contrast to some of the environments that DiGiulian faced while chasing her objectives.

Hanging in a hammock attached to a sheer rock face is enough to intimidate even the most seasoned of athletes, but for Digiulian, it’s the least of her concerns.

“The more you know about climbing gear, the more you trust it,” said Digiulian. “With all of the testing that it goes through – a bolt in itself can hold a car, basically. So three bolts to hold a bivy on the side of a cliff is fine.”

Photo of Sasha DeGiulian by Francois Lebeau

But that doesn’t stop her from acknowledging the hazards that are play a part in their pursuits, noting that she’s more afraid bouldering 10 feet off the ground, where the possibility of injury is higher, than thousands of feet up a wall with a rope.

The reality of risk and injury, no matter their level of expertise, is something they all have to face.

“It’s bound to happen, you’re really good and everything’s great until everything goes wrong,” said DiGiulian.

Photo courtesy of Sasha DiGiulian. South Africa, Waterval July 2013.
Photo courtesy of Sasha DiGiulian. South Africa, Waterval July 2013.

VanderBeek points out it can have nothing to do with skill, and nothing to do with preparation.

“You’re dancing on that edge, and it’s an accepted choice,” said VanderBeek. “I had to remind myself of that every time I clipped into my bindings. If I was making that choice, the safest way to do it was being confident going to the mountain rather than being scared and having it come to me.”

Laurenne Ross has lived both sides of that edge, having recently suffered a serious knee injury from a crash last March during the U.S. Championships.

“It’s hard. You know you’re going to come up to these moments of ‘shit, I’m going to die’, or ‘something bad is going to happen’, and I’m dealing with the aftermath of that right now” said Ross.

Photo courtesy of Laurenne Ross
Photo courtesy of Laurenne Ross

Dealing with the elements of fear and risk comes into play whether leading a trad climb, sending a barrel, or speeding down a ski race route.

“You have to categorize your fear and risk as being rational or irrational,” said DiGiulian. “Once you can figure out the origin of your fear, you can approach it from that perspective. If it’s irrational, maybe the consequences are just in your mind and it’s more about controlling that.

“If it’s accountable risk, you need to be hyper aware of what you’re doing and be in as much control as possible.”

Photo courtesy of Quincy Davis
Photo courtesy of Quincy Davis

Davis mentioned that being confident in what she does is her best antidote to these elements.

“If you’re even just a little bit scared, it usually doesn’t end great,” she said. “Acknowledge the risk, but trust your skills and go for it.”

Quincy Davis explores Banff Sunshine Village. Photo by Dan Evans.
Quincy Davis explores Banff Sunshine Village. Photo by Dan Evans.

With it being the first winter visit to Banff National Park for the pair, it was a different experience from the resorts they had visited before.

“I loved it,” said DiGiulian, “the landscape is amazing and the mountain runs are so wide and open, the terrain is really nice here.”

Sasha DiGiulian and Quincy Davis take in the views from the Top of the World chair at Lake Louise Ski Resort. Photo by Dan Evans
Sasha DiGiulian and Quincy Davis take in the views from the Top of the World chair at Lake Louise Ski Resort. Photo by Dan Evans

“It took me a day to get comfortable being on a snowboard and comfortable again,” said Davis. “I was definitely nervous at the start on some runs, going up so high.”

But with the advice of VanderBeek and Ross fresh in their minds, they took on the challenge before them with confidence.

“Not waiting for the mountain to come to you – that was really cool advice, and I think it’s applicable across all sports,” said DiGiulian. “When I was skiing I thought, ‘okay, just go for it, and trust your technique’.”

Sasha DiGiulian explores off the summit platter at Lake Louise Ski Resort. Photo by Tony Czech
Sasha DiGiulian explores off the summit platter at Lake Louise Ski Resort. Photo by Tony Czech

Ready to test your own skills or push your comfort zone? Skiing in the Canadian Rockies is a great place to feel alive, whether you’re a seasoned rider or a first timer on the slopes. Let  the vacation experts at SkiBig3 help you plan your next winter ski trip to Banff National Park.

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