Two brothers’ quest for the Olympics started two weeks ago when they travelled to West Vancouver’s Cypress Mountain, the official Olympic site for Ski Cross at the 2010 Winter Games. Ski Cross, a daring and entertaining event involving four skiers at a time racing down a course with jumps, rollers and banked turns, will be a debut sport in 2010.
Clay and Luke Dolan, two brothers from the area have started the Ontario Skier Cross Team. They are looking for men and women with enough courage to join the team and possibly fulfill an Olympic dream. Ski Cross is a World Cup event in Europe sanctioned by F.I.S. There is also a major pro tour in the United States “The Honda Ski Tour”. There was only one event in Canada this year, which took place last weekend at Mont Tremblant, Quebec. Clay Dolan, after four years of recovery from a horrific boating accident when he almost lost both his legs and was millimetres away from severing his spinal cord, placed 2nd taking home $2,225.00 in prize money.
The Dolan Brothers began their quest a little over a month ago. After living in Whistler since the early 90’s Luke, 35 had recently returned to Georgian Bay, and along with older brother Josh, started a Painting Business: Capital Painting Inc. Luke had been retired from Ski Cross competition for two years and was eager to move on with his life. Hearing Ski Cross was going to be in the 2010 games early in the 06/07 ski season, he gave it little thought. But as the season went on…the questions start popping up in his head “can I give it one more shot?” he debated.
The catalyst came while skiing in Whistler in February, Luke ran into a friend, Davy Barr, in the line up (currently ranked 7th in the world in Ski Cross). “Why aren’t you doing this?” asked Davy “there is a National Team try out at the end of March at Cypress Mountain”. After discussing it with Clay the Dolan brothers decided to go for it!
Clay 28, also spent some time in Whistler in the mid to late 90’s. Clay is a gifted free skier, competing in “extreme” competitions like the Canadian Free Skiing Championships at Blackcomb Mountain two years in a row. He won the first ever Ski Cross competition on Whistler Mountain in 2000. Clay decided to move back to Ontario and went the University of Guelph, where he played Varsity Football. He figured the mountains will always be there and would return when he finished his degree. But that fateful day on July 13th 2003 changed his life forever. Doctors had told him that he would never be able to ski race again. Well he certainly proved them wrong! Clay is an exceptional athlete at six feet four inches and 205 pounds. Still no one thought he’d ever have a remote chance at the Olympics.
Luke and Clay travelled to Cypress Mountain to the first in a series of Canadian National Ski Cross Team tryouts. Since the sport is so new and there is currently no team in Canada, the possibility of travelling Europe and the U.S. racing Ski Cross on a newly formed and fully funded National Team was too temping to turn down. The brothers put together the Ontario team, got some jackets, stickers and t-shirts made up and went for it. The Camp went well for both brothers, placing 4th and 5th in the time trials. “We knew we were fighting an up hill battle, being out of the sport for so long, we had a tonne of catching up to do” remarks Clay, but the brothers were defiantly happy with their results. The trip however did have its share of drama. Luke’s newly acquired ski sponsorship, Atomic gave him new boots and two new pair of skis just weeks before the camp. In Ski Cross fast skis are everything. The only way to make ski’s fast is to ski and wax them at least 15 to 20 times. Of course Luke’s first stop was to see Duncan his favourite ski tech in the area at Squire John’s Ski Shop in Craigleith. Breaking in new boots this time of year was also going to be challenge but thankfully Shane from Squire’s was up for the task. Atomic is a major player in Ski Cross, and most of the top athletes in the world ride for Atomic. Clay on the other hand, riding for Rossignol was also given new skis. One pair straight off the world cup, which had been waxed many times. This was exactly what he needed – super fast skis. The next step was clothing. In Ski Cross as opposed to regular ski racing skin tight suits are against the rules. But fairly tight clothing is permitted. So the Brothers, who are both sponsored by D.N.A. Descent Clothing, headed to the main headquarters in Vancouver to see what they could find. Descent came through big and the boys found exactly what they needed.
After leaving the camp a day early to travel to Mont Tremblant Quebec, the boys were ready for their first competition in years. “We knew we were behind the eight ball, but we wanted to take something positive from the race to use this summer while training” said Luke. The course was rough, snow conditions were bad for racing, let alone building a course. It had been close to 20 degrees a week before, and a night before training Tremblant received 29cms of powder. Great if you brought your fat boards, but not so good on GS Skis. The mixture of warm snow that froze, along with all the new snow, combined for a thrilling event.
Luke had a series of crashes in training and eventually pulled out of the race, pininng all the hopes of the newly formed Ontario Skier Cross Team on younger brother Clay. After a tough start in his first heat Clay managed to get the hole shot. Then came the semi-final heat where Clay was matched up against Whistler’s Davey Barr. Clay managed to get the hole shot on the veteran Barr and win the semi finals. “I had decided to take some pictures on the course and when I saw Clay in first, -- I couldn’t believe it” added Luke. In Ski Cross the top two finishers make it to the next round. Obviously Clay’s Rossignol skis were running fast, but Davey wanted it bad (he had finished second the last four years at Tremblant). Out of the start gate in the final heat Davy pulled ahead by polling and skating before jumping into his tuck, a veteran move since no one had done this all day. Clay got right on his tail and followed to place second, and take home some cash to help offset the cost of the trip.
The Dolan Brothers are hoping to bring a few events to the area next year. Ski Cross is governed by Freestyle Canada, however most competitors come from an Alpine Ski Racing background. Unfortunately the Ski Racing community in Ontario has yet to embrace the sport. This may be a blessing in disguise. Many young talented racers burn out in their late teens, and give up their dreams altogether due to politics and drama of the sport. The great thing about Ski Cross is that it adds another positive option for disillusioned young ski racers.
Ski Cross offers all the aspects of skiing: technical turns, big air and speed, combined with the ability to ski in a crowd. Plus every course is different, unlike traditional racing. And usually whenever there is an event, there is a full day of training to minimize injury. “We owe the start of our sport to snowboarding. Boarder Cross was in the last Olympics and has a healthy tour in the Area” describes Clay. Now that Ski Cross is a legitimate sport, the Brothers hope to find support and attract new athletes to the sport. In 2004 and 2005 Blue Mountain held Ski Cross events for both amateur and pro athletes and they were a great success.
The Brothers have a long way to go, their goal is to Compete in the World Cup in Europe and in the U.S. next year. The qualifications for the Olympics have yet to be determined.
If you think you’ve got what it takes and would like to try out and train with The Ontario Skier Cross Team this summer, or if you would like to help sponsor the Team, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Clay and Luke Dolan extend sincere thanks to their sponsors, the folks at Squire John’s and their friends and family for all of their good wishes and support.
Congratulations to Clay and Luke for their success in this leg of their journey. Clay…I guess dinner is on you.
Photo Credit: Clay Dolan