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New faces seek their own places on Canada’s women’s mogul team

Saskatoon native Maïa Schwinghammer, just 21, is the veteran of Canada's women's mogul team.  (Sébastien Berthiaume - photo credit)

Saskatoon native Maïa Schwinghammer, just 21, is the veteran of Canada’s women’s mogul team. (Sébastien Berthiaume – photo credit)

It’s a new era for the Canada Women’s Moguls Team.

For the first time in two decades there are no Olympic medalists in the roster of skiers and for the first time in 15 years there are no Dufour-Lapointe sisters in the World Cup.

But there’s a small group of hungry up-and-coming talent, led by a 21-year-old from Saskatoon, who are hoping to make their mark on the world stage.

Maïa Schwinghammer knows that wearing the Maple Leaf around the world comes with a certain responsibility. This country has a long mogul tradition, with five Olympic medals for women and six for men, including three from current team member Mikaël Kingsbury, the most successful World Cup skier in history.

“I definitely feel that. I’m trying not to let the pressure get into my head too much. I have a lot of potential as an athlete and I’ve just worked so hard to really show that and hopefully that’s going to come next year,” said Schwinghammer on a recent call from Idre Fjäll, Sweden, where she will compete in the second World Cup of the season.

“As I continue on my path, it has always been a dream of mine to compete in the Olympics and get on the podium in World Cups and follow in the footsteps of these great athletes.”

It’s a changing of the guard for the Canadian women’s mogul ski team.

Dave Holland/Canadian Sports Inst

Dave Holland/Canadian Sports Inst

Started skiing at the age of 4

Chloe Dufour-Lapointe, a four-time Olympian and Sochi 2014 silver medalist, retired for the off-season at age 31, while sister Justine, 28, a two-time Olympic medalist, is taking a break this season and skiing with the Freeride World Tour . Beijing Olympian Sophie Ann Gagnon, a 23-year-old from Whistler, BC, is also taking a year off following the intensity of the last Olympic cycle, half of which was spent under COVID protocols.

Suddenly Schwinghammer is the most experienced woman in the national team with 30 World Cup starts.

One thing stands out when talking to Schwinghammer. She not only likes her sport. She loves her sport. And she has from the start.

It began when a four-year-old boy was towed on a rope behind a snowmobile on Lake Christopher, a village one hour and 45 minutes northeast of Saskatoon.

Her parents also used to own a ski slope near Saskatoon called Blackstrap, a 150-foot run.

“Not very high,” said Schwinghammer, laughing. “I loved it. I was pretty lucky as a kid that my parents ran this and I was just free to roam the hill and learn to ski.”

It’s also in the genes.

Father Rick, also born and raised in Saskatoon, has spent time on the World Cup circuit in mogul, air and ballet skiing and has worked with the FIS, the international governing body, where he organized the venues for freestyle skiing at the 2010 Olympics built in Vancouver.

It was at these Olympics that her heart grew for the sport. She attended a freestyle ski camp in Whistler for a month. “I absolutely loved it,” she said.

She broke down in tears when defending Olympic gold medalist Jenn Heil of Canada didn’t win the gold medal (in fact, she sent the 2010 silver medalist a handwritten letter telling her she was the gold medalist of her heart). Eight years later, Schwinghammer found herself skiing at one of Heils camps in Jasper.

“It was quite a big camp for me. Jenn has always been my inspiration. It’s a dream to ski with your idols.”

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

striving for consistency

One thing their idols had is consistency. Heil, for example, won five crystal globes as overall World Cup winner and four world championships, as well as Olympic gold and silver.

“I definitely worked a lot on (consistency) in my training. It’s one thing to train it all summer, but bringing it into competition is quite another battle. It’s still a work in progress but I have one of the best examples of consistency in the world on my team at Mik Kingsbury.

“Consistency is just as much a mental aspect as physical training. It also comes with experience.”

Her coach Jim Schiman agrees.

“That was one of our big things. Narrowing down that range between the not-so-great runs and the great runs, and the more we can narrow that down and take the low end of that, the more successful it will be.

“Maïa has always been a solid skier, but it was all about ups and downs, now she’s a little more consistent. She’s worked extremely hard this offseason. She definitely added strength, speed and agility.

“I think we should look at her as a consistent finalist (top 16) pushing for the super final (top 6) at this stage. That would be my hope for them this year.”

Normally, the Canadian Women’s World Cup mogul team consists of at least four athletes, if not more. This year, however, it’s just two: Schwinghammer and Laurianne Desmarais-Gilbert, who only started six national World Cups before this season. Berkley Brown, a 22-year-old from Toronto with 20 Worlds starts, is returning from injury and is currently off the team.

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Loves double moguls

Two NextGen athletes could be making their World Cup debuts this season: 21-year-old Jesse Linton from North Vancouver, BC and 18-year-old Kaylee Koeler from Quebec City.

“We have a lot of potential there with these women,” said Schiman. “It’s the first step of the World Cup and the performance of your skills and we just hope that every year we build a little bit more and in four years (in Milan Cortina) we’re knocking on that door.”

Speaking of the next 2026 Olympics in Italy, what does Schwinghammer think of including double moguls as an official event for those games?

“I love duals. I mean how cool is that?” she said. “We can now go to the Olympics and have two chances for a medal. It’s so great. Duals is just so competitive and definitely takes mogul skiing to another level and I love it.”

Understandable. Her career-best results are in this discipline, which sees two skiers compete side-by-side in a head-to-head elimination format. She was a silver medalist at the 2018 World Junior Championships and has two top 10 finishes in the World Cup, both from last season (8th in Alpe D’Huez, France, and a career-best sixth in Valmalenco, Italy).

It may be a new phase in women’s mogul skiing in Canada, but sometimes turning a page has the benefit of a blank slate.

That’s OK from swing hammer.

“It’s time for me to put everything I’ve worked towards together and hopefully make a difference.”

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