When Chris Spring is done being a pilot, he has his eyes on...being a pilot.
To clarify, the three-time Olympic bobsleigh pilot is currently taking a year away from competition and is using the time to pursue his post-competition career in aviation.
Spring also took the time off to recharge for a run at a fourth Games in 2022 in Beijing, China. Though he's experienced injuries in the past, Spring felt that he wasn't forced into the decision, but rather came to it on his own.
"I found that I was getting to the end of the season not in the same shape that I was when I started the season. It's really important to finish the year strong because that's when the Olympic Games or World Championships are. For us, that's our biggest competition of the year," said Spring, who is currently living in downtown Vancouver. "I wanted to make sure that when I get a chance to compete at those major championships again, World Championships or Olympic Games, that I'm my best athlete. In the last three, four, five years, I just haven't been that athlete."
Spring, who turns 36 in March, said that he is, for the most part, feeling better and is getting pumped for a return to the BMW IBSF World Cup for the 2020-21 season.
"It kind of comes and goes in waves and some days, I feel amazing and other days, I feel like some of those old injuries are creeping back in. I'm reassured by the team of therapists and coaches that work with me that this is just the way it goes," he said. "There has to be patience. I'm listening to my body and understanding that right now, it's saying hold the horses just a little bit."
For now, though, Spring is occupied with pursuing his aviation goals. He started with the Game Plan program offered through the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Sport Institute.Spring started flying out of Brackendale with Glacier Air, in part because he'd heard glowing reviews, but also because of the amazing views.
"I thought it would, selfishly, be a good opportunity to not only learn how to fly but get to see some really beautiful sites as well in and around the Squamish Valley, up to Whistler," he said.
More recently, Spring has embarked on his commercial training with Pacific Rim Aviation out of Pitt Meadows, where he is also renting a plane to increase his hours.
Spring's current license only allows for him to fly single-engine aircrafts, so he has primarily flown the Cessna 172, though he experienced flying a Cessna 180 with Fort Langley Air. Spring added that he's eying the de Havilland Canada DH-2 Beaver, which Fort Langley also has onsite.
Spring plans to take his written exam in the coming months and take his commercial flight test before the summer is through. From there, he'll need roughly 40 to 50 more hours in the air before he's officially obtained his license, which Spring expects he'll get in 2021.
His hope is to eventually stay in the Lower Mainland and fly float planes.
While at first he didn't see as many parallels between bobsleigh driving and airplane piloting as he initially supposed, Spring eventually realized that both require a similar calm temperament.
"Sometimes in the plane, there's a lot going on, especially when you're coming into a busy airport. There's a lot of traffic. You're looking at the air traffic controller and there are a lot of instructions that you have to follow. You can get overwhelmed," he said. "They talk about getting behind the plane a little bit, and we talk about that in bobsleigh, too—you try to be ahead of the sled. You need to know what's coming up.
"Being comfortable in an uncomfortable situation, particularly if you're a little bit nervous or a little bit overwhelmed in that situation."
Spring hasn't flown recently, in part due to weather but in part because of his schedule. In addition to training and working for the Passenger Bobsleigh Experience at the Whistler Sliding Centre, Spring has been working as a ramp agent for Pacific Coastal Airlines out of Vancouver International Airport. His duties involve loading baggage onto planes, ensuring the plane is loaded correctly so the weight and balance is safe for the pilots, and other ground operations to ensure a smooth flight.
While he misses competition and travelling to beautiful locales with the Canadian team, Spring is grateful for the opportunity to test new equipment on a familiar track in preparation for a major push in the final two years of the Olympic quadrennial. It's especially welcome considering that on tour, he's allowed few practice runs as the scene shifts from track to track nearly every week.
"It can be difficult to find the time to do quality controlled testing in an environment that doesn't have very many outside influences. Even though the testing that I'm doing isn't extremely competition-specific, it's been really valuable in finding out what I think will work in the future as far as equipment goes," he said.
With the Canada Bobsleigh Skeleton development team coming to Whistler later this month, Spring is eager to help mentor the next generation while also emphasizing that his best is yet to come.
"Taking the year off has confirmed that I'm definitely not done with the sport," he said. "I'm definitely working hard to make sure that I come back the best athlete I can be and keep competing for Canada for another few years, at least."