Standing on the podium at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Whistler’s Ashleigh McIvor was in shock, barely able to mouth the words to Oh Canada. Winning the first-ever Olympic gold medal awarded in the new sport of ski cross a stone’s throw from her own backyard at Cypress Bowl? This went beyond the stuff of dreams. It all may have seemed a bit surreal to one of the sport’s biggest stars, yet if ever there was an individual who appeared destined to ascend the peak of his or her sport, it is McIvor.

Raised in Whistler, she started skiing at eighteen months. Her parents dressed her up in gear and slowly slid her down two carpeted steps into the living room while still in diapers. At age three, McIvor recalls skiing down the base of Blackcomb under the Magic chair between her parents’ legs, holding on to ski poles across their knees while she mastered the snowplow.

At thirteen, McIvor qualified for an international juvenile ski race in Italy, where she was coached by Bebe Zoricic and Nancy Greene’s son Willy Raine. Several Whistler-area coaches including Jordan Williams helped her progress up the ranks as a young alpine skier. At sixteen she suffered a broken leg in a crash and appeared done with alpine.

Something about racing against the clock in alpine just didn’t appeal to McIvor as much as head-to-head racing her buddies down the mountain through powder and over cliffs. After recovering, she finished high school and attended UBC, setting up classes three days a week, so she could ski the other four. She saw an X-Games ski cross race on TV and a seed was planted.

Friends trying to convince her to try ski cross finally wore her down. Sometimes giving in to peer pressure can be a good thing. She won her very first ski cross race in California and qualified for X-Games, despite suffering a dislocated shoulder in training. From there her rise was rapid.

In university, McIvor wrote an essay arguing that ski cross should be added as an Olympic sport. Within a few years, her wish came true, the stars aligning as Vancouver became the first Olympics at which the sport would be contested.

Based on past results, McIvor entered Vancouver as a medal favourite. Ranked in the world’s top-three for the past three years, she won the 2009 FIS world championship overcoming a crash in qualifying and a silver medal at the 2010 Winter X Games.

McIvor quickly erased any doubt that the pressure of competing in the Olympics at home would be an issue. Qualifying second, she won her first two knock-out races. In the semi-finals, Norway’s Hedda Berntsen passed her using a faster line on a key turn. In the final, McIvor shot out to a quick lead and used Berntsen’s line to hold off the undefeated Norwegian and capture gold. Canadians watching at snowy Cypress went mad, a scene repeated in countless living rooms across the country.

McIvor accumulated ten World Cup podium finishes during the course of her career. She announced her retirement from competitive racing in 2012.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.