Robert Lepine has taken a different path than most elite-level ski cross racers, but the Whistler resident is hoping it will lead him to the sport’s biggest stage.
In announcing the roster for Canada’s 2012-’13 ski cross season last week, Alpine Canada named Lepine to the newly-created prospect training group, meaning the 20-year-old will likely earn greater opportunities to race at the World Cup level looking forward.
“I knew I wasn’t guaranteed anything,” said Lepine, coming off two consecutive seasons of finishing second on the Nor-Am Cup circuit. “But once I found out that I had a spot on the prospect team and that they’re looking at me, it’s really exciting, for sure.”
Though it’s unclear at this point what his role will be next season, Lepine’s addition to the group continues the tradition of a strong Whistler presence among the national team. But Lepine is a relative newcomer to the resort, moving here with his family three years ago “from Alberta, where it was flat and boring,” he laughed.
“We wanted to come to a mountain where there was skiing,” said Lepine. “Then I started ski cross and I fell in love.”
While many ski cross stars started out as alpine racers before making the switch over, Lepine is an exception. Although he’s admittedly not the strongest alpine skier, his background in big mountain and freestyle skiing seems to have its benefits on a ski cross course.
“(I’ve taken) a bit of a different path, for sure, but I don’t think it takes away from my ability,” he said. “I’m not scared of jumps and I’m pretty good in the air.”
Having worked with Lepine for the past few seasons, B.C. Ski Cross Team head coach Drew Hetherington said he’s seen tremendous improvement from Lepine as he racked up consecutive runner-up finishes on the Nor-Am Tour.
“He started doing ski cross full-time in the winter (of 2011) with me and it really showed,” said Hetherington. “It was his starts that everybody started noticing — he was able to get out of the gates faster than anyone and that’s a huge advantage in ski cross. He doesn’t have the strong alpine background like a lot of the racers do on the national team, but he’s been able to adapt very well by picking up what he needs to know for ski cross and applying it.”
Lepine’s recognition at the national level is also a victory for the B.C. team, which is administered through the Whistler Mountain Ski Club.
“It tells us that we’re doing something right,” said Hetherington. “Through the resources that we have here in Whistler, the ability to travel and all of the background support that we have from the Whistler Mountain Ski Club and B.C. Alpine, I’m able to put together a program that I can see is having results. That’s big for me and obviously for the club and the province.”
Lepine has two World Cup starts in his career, both coming at Ontario’s Blue Mountain over the past two seasons. But with the World Cup tour’s expanded schedule of 17 races, starting with a new Canadian event at Nakiska in December, and the quota for Canadian athletes exceeding the number of full-time national team members, there appears to be increased opportunity for Lepine to make more appearances on the circuit.
“We are looking to have our prospect athletes adapt quickly in the hope of them racing on the World Cup circuit and potentially fast-tracking them to Sochi,” said Dave Ellis, Alpine Canada’s ski cross director, in last week’s team announcement.
Lepine will participate in summer training camps with the national team, among a four-man prospect group that includes alpine crossover Louis-Pierre Helie, Nor-Am champ Ian Deans of Kelowna and Comox’s Mathieu Leduc.
“I’ve just got to try as hard as I can at these camps and go from there,” he said.