Sports

Soaring for Gold

Valley freestyle skier — and her snowboarding brother— follow their dreams and shoot for Olympic gold

When alarmed, <a href=

more about marmots give piercingly loud whistles, men’s health which earned them the nickname “Whistle Pig”.  Vancouver Island marmots like Topper, illness above, have five distinct whistles or trills used for different purposes. That’s more than any other marmot species.  Photo by Joey Chrisholm” width=”602″ height=”430″ /> When alarmed, marmots give piercingly loud whistles, which earned them the nickname “Whistle Pig”.  Vancouver Island marmots like Topper, above, have five distinct whistles or trills used for different purposes. That’s more than any other marmot species.  Photo by Joey Chrisholm

Most people who live on Vancouver Island have heard of the Vancouver Island marmot. In fact, this house cat- sized rodent has become our Island mascot—and maybe our new Canadian mascot too.

This is understandably so, since the Vancouver Island marmots have everything going for them to grant them star appeal. They are cute beyond belief with their adorable white noses, that perpetual smile, and the way they touch noses to say hello. They are incredibly rare—in fact, they are endemic to Vancouver Island, meaning they’re found nowhere else on earth, and represent one of the five species of animal that’s endemic to Canada. And finally, they are living a dangerous adventure—since just a few years ago they almost ceased to exist.

Though the story of the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) really began thousands of years ago when their colonies first appeared on the Island, our story of the Vancouver Island marmot starts in the late-1980s when biologists first sounded the alarm that the marmot numbers were beginning to dwindle. Unfortunately, the number of Vancouver Island marmots continued to decline unabated, from an estimated 300 in the mid-80s to their lowest number of less than 25 wild marmots remaining in 2001. At that point, the Vancouver Island marmot was granted the sad distinction of being one of the most critically endangered mammals in the world and the most endangered mammal in Canada.

In response to their declining numbers, the Marmot Recovery Foundation was created in 1999, with the goal to save the Vancouver Island marmot from extinction and to help restore a healthy and strong marmot population to their natural habitat.

“There weren’t a lot of eyes watching back in the 80s when their numbers began to decline,” says Adam Taylor, the executive director of the Marmot Recovery Foundation. Thankfully, people did take notice eventually, though by then the situation was quite serious. For example, when the recovery program started, the marmot numbers were so dire that they took the bold yet necessary step of capturing some wild marmots to create a “genetic lifeboat” in order to possibly restore their numbers in the future if all the wild marmots disappeared. Thankfully, that never occurred, and since 2001, through the efforts of the recovery project, the Vancouver Island marmot is beginning to show strong signs of recovery.

Though the program is proving to be successful, the Vancouver Island marmot is not an easy creature to assist, as they insist on living in difficult-to-reach places where winter conditions prevail most of the year. “They live in a precarious spot at the best of times”, says Taylor. “It’s pretty impressive where they can eke out a living.”

When a Vancouver Island marmot goes in search of a new neighborhood the list of requirements is short but very specific. The area must be free of trees with south and west facing sub-alpine and alpine exposure. It must be strewn with boulders, as these provide perfect lookouts as well as convenient places to sun oneself on those rare nice days. And if it is above 1,000 metres in elevation, well that’s all the better. Because of these exacting specifications, suitable colonization areas are rare, and as a result, the Vancouver Island marmot is only found in three areas of the island—Nanaimo Lakes region, the Mount Washington-Forbidden Plateau region, and the western Strathcona Park-Schoen Lake Park region.

Vancouver Island marmots are also difficult to spot as they spend most of the year underground. “They hibernate from late September to spring, for a total of about seven months,” Taylor says. “That’s an unusually long hibernation period—much longer than most hibernating animals. In addition, the Vancouver Island marmot is the only large burrowing animal that lives in our subalpine and alpine areas.”

Mildred the marmot. Photo by Joey Chrisholm

Mildred the marmot. Photo by Joey Chrisholm

When you imagine a marmot burrow you may visualize a simple dwelling dug into the earth, but you’d be wrong. In fact, one burrow was excavated and found to measure four metres long and one metre from the surface. Most burrows even contain several passages and exits. Although the marmots utilize the burrows all year, in late September they begin the process of preparing for their long hibernation. If you are lucky enough to spot a marmot in the fall, you will probably see it carrying large wads of dried grasses and mud. These materials are what they use to create a plug to keep predators out and the heat in. Eventually the holes are totally blocked, providing a safe place to survive the cold winter.

Although their burrows are well engineered, the long hibernation can be a problem, as the marmots have to store enough energy throughout the year to keep them alive during the extended hibernation period.  During hibernation the marmot’s heart slows to three or four beats per minute, compared to 110 to more than 200 beats per minute during activity.

“When they hibernate their digestive system actually shrinks and withers,” says Taylor. “Hopefully they have enough stored energy left in the spring to re-energize their digestive system once they wake up.” In general, marmots lose about one-third of their body mass during the seven months in which they hibernate.

It helps that the Vancouver Island marmot is not a picky eater. In fact, our Island marmot is known to eat more than 50 different species of grasses, sedges, herbs and wild flowers. “As long as it’s green they will eat it,” Taylor says. “And they absolutely love wild flowers.”

Unlike most rodents, the Vancouver Island marmot is a slow breeding species. For one thing, a Vancouver Island marmot will not reach breeding age until three or four years. In addition, they only breed, on average, every other year. And when the stars line up and they do breed, they will only have two or three pups. “This slow breeding is a result of where they live,” explains Taylor.

Play fighting (“boxing”) is a common behavior with Vancouver Island Marmots, like these two boxing yearlings.  Photo by Joey Chrisholm

Play fighting (“boxing”) is a common behavior with Vancouver Island Marmots, like these two boxing yearlings.  Photo by Joey Chrisholm

Although the Vancouver Island marmot endures a difficult existence, for thousands of years they were able to support healthy colony numbers that could withstand difficult years without threat of extinction. What changed in the last several decades to negatively affect this delicate balance?

“We are not entirely sure why the Vancouver Island marmot began to decline in numbers in the 1980s,” Taylor says. “But it seems that changes in predator activity, climate change, and changes to the surrounding habitat have a negative effect on their numbers.”

Climate change is causing tree growth at higher elevations, making suitable colony areas harder to find. In addition, encroaching roads have created easier access for predators, such as wolves and cougars. Finally, in the 80s, logging at higher elevations became more widespread on Vancouver Island, and marmots moved to the recently cleared areas, as they resemble the marmots preferred habitat in a lot of ways. Unfortunately, these cut block migrations hurt the marmots in two ways. It dispersed the natural colonies, lowering their numbers and making repopulation more difficult, and the cut block colonies did not survive as well since the topography was not ideal for their long-term survival.

The main predators of Vancouver Island marmots are wolves, cougars and golden eagles. But the marmot population has always been small and incapable of supporting a predator population. Vancouver Island marmots are killed opportunistically as predators hunt other more plentiful prey such as deer, elk and rabbit.

Because the Vancouver Island marmot is not a quick breeder, coupled with their naturally precarious existence, it hasn’t been an easy job to help their population increase. However, the Marmot Recovery Foundation has been successful through a multi-pronged approach.

Firstly, they have utilized a captive breeding program based from locations across the country, such as the Calgary and the Toronto zoos, as well as a $1.2-million specialized facility on the Mount Washington ski hill. They then release these marmot pioneers into the wild hoping that they will survive, thrive and breed.

Secondly, a supplemental feeding program is conducted in the spring. The hope is that with supplemental feeding the marmots may breed more often. Thirdly, habitat management is necessary when climate change causes tree growth to creep into their natural habitat. Lastly, they will relocate marmots when they see that marmots have moved to unsuitable areas, such as cut blocks.

Timber companies on the Island have taken an active role in doing what they can to mitigate the damages logging practices have had on the Vancouver Island marmot population. This is a good thing, since two out of three of the colonies occur on privately owned lands held by MacMillan Bloedel Limited and TimberWest Limited.

“We have a good relationship with the timber companies on Vancouver Island,” says Taylor. In fact, according to the Private Forest Landowners Association website, since the Marmot Recovery Foundation’s inception, Island Timberlands and TimberWest have contributed more than $3 million to the foundation’s marmot recovery efforts.

Speaking of funding, we should be proud that it’s primarily individuals that have made it possible for the recovery efforts to continue. “For the most part, we have been supported by Canadians. Actually, we are 75 per cent funded by individuals, the rest is government and corporate donations,” Taylor says. “So it’s mostly donors. That’s what has allowed us to get to this point.”

And where are they in their conservation efforts? Currently, there are about 300 wild Vancouver Island marmots residing in 24 successful colonies in three regions on Vancouver Island. The ultimate recovery goal is to establish self-sustaining wild populations that number 400 to 600 in total. It is believed that once these numbers are reached, the Vancouver Island marmot species should be able to sustain their population without such active assistance. “We have a job to do—but we’d like to wrap it up and move on,” Taylor says. “Because when we move on we know we’ve been successful in our efforts. Here on Vancouver Island we have good marmot habitat. Full recovery is possible. They can thrive on their own.”

But the Vancouver Island marmots are not out of the woods yet, so to speak. For example, if the recovery program were to stop today, it’s possible that the marmot numbers would not be enough to sustain them indefinitely. As a result, the Marmot Recovery Program is actively seeking donations to help them in their final stretch of saving the Vancouver Island marmot. Individuals can give a one-time donation, or they can adopt a marmot, where they pledge $10 a month. The Adopt-A-Marmot program supports the captive breeding and release program, where each donor knows they are supporting a marmot that will eventually be released into the wild.

For more information and how to help go to www.marmots.org
When alarmed, doctor
marmots give piercingly loud whistles, which earned them the nickname “Whistle Pig”.  Vancouver Island marmots like Topper, above, have five distinct whistles or trills used for different purposes. That’s more than any other marmot species.  Photo by Joey Chrisholm

Play fighting (“boxing”) is a common behavior with Vancouver Island Marmots, like these two boxing yearlings.  Photo by Joey Chrisholm

Most people who live on Vancouver Island have heard of the Vancouver Island marmot. In fact, this house cat- sized rodent has become our Island mascot—and maybe our new Canadian mascot too.
This is understandably so, since the Vancouver Island marmots have everything going for them to grant them star appeal. They are cute beyond belief with their adorable white noses, that perpetual smile, and the way they touch noses to say hello. They are incredibly rare—in fact, they are endemic to Vancouver Island, meaning they’re found nowhere else on earth, and represent one of the five species of animal that’s endemic to Canada. And finally, they are living a dangerous adventure—since just a few years ago they almost ceased to exist.
Though the story of the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) really began thousands of years ago when their colonies first appeared on the Island, our story of the Vancouver Island marmot starts in the late-1980s when biologists first sounded the alarm that the marmot numbers were beginning to dwindle. Unfortunately, the number of Vancouver Island marmots continued to decline unabated, from an estimated 300 in the mid-80s to their lowest number of less than 25 wild marmots remaining in 2001. At that point, the Vancouver Island marmot was granted the sad distinction of being one of the most critically endangered mammals in the world and the most endangered mammal in Canada.
In response to their declining numbers, the Marmot Recovery Foundation was created in 1999, with the goal to save the Vancouver Island marmot from extinction and to help restore a healthy and strong marmot population to their natural habitat.
“There weren’t a lot of eyes watching back in the 80s when their numbers began to decline,” says Adam Taylor, the executive director of the Marmot Recovery Foundation. Thankfully, people did take notice eventually, though by then the situation was quite serious. For example, when the recovery program started, the marmot numbers were so dire that they took the bold yet necessary step of capturing some wild marmots to create a “genetic lifeboat” in order to possibly restore their numbers in the future if all the wild marmots disappeared. Thankfully, that never occurred, and since 2001, through the efforts of the recovery project, the Vancouver Island marmot is beginning to show strong signs of recovery.
Though the program is proving to be successful, the Vancouver Island marmot is not an easy creature to assist, as they insist on living in difficult-to-reach places where winter conditions prevail most of the year. “They live in a precarious spot at the best of times”, says Taylor. “It’s pretty impressive where they can eke out a living.”
When a Vancouver Island marmot goes in search of a new neighborhood the list of requirements is short but very specific. The area must be free of trees with south and west facing sub-alpine and alpine exposure. It must be strewn with boulders, as these provide perfect lookouts as well as convenient places to sun oneself on those rare nice days. And if it is above 1,000 metres in elevation, well that’s all the better. Because of these exacting specifications, suitable colonization areas are rare, and as a result, the Vancouver Island marmot is only found in three areas of the island—Nanaimo Lakes region, the Mount Washington-Forbidden Plateau region, and the western Strathcona Park-Schoen Lake Park region.
Vancouver Island marmots are also difficult to spot as they spend most of the year underground. “They hibernate from late September to spring, for a total of about seven months,” Taylor says. “That’s an unusually long hibernation period—much longer than most hibernating animals. In addition, the Vancouver Island marmot is the only large burrowing animal that lives in our subalpine and alpine areas.”
When you imagine a marmot burrow you may visualize a simple dwelling dug into the earth, but you’d be wrong. In fact, one burrow was excavated and found to measure four metres long and one metre from the surface. Most burrows even contain several passages and exits. Although the marmots utilize the burrows all year, in late September they begin the process of preparing for their long hibernation. If you are lucky enough to spot a marmot in the fall, you will probably see it carrying large wads of dried grasses and mud. These materials are what they use to create a plug to keep predators out and the heat in. Eventually the holes are totally blocked, providing a safe place to survive the cold winter.
Although their burrows are well engineered, the long hibernation can be a problem, as the marmots have to store enough energy throughout the year to keep them alive during the extended hibernation period.
During hibernation the marmot’s heart slows to three or four beats per minute, compared to 110 to moer than 200 beats per minute during activity.
“When they hibernate their digestive system actually shrinks and withers,” says Taylor. “Hopefully they have enough stored energy left in the spring to re-energize their digestive system once they wake up.” In general, marmots lose about one-third of their body mass during the seven months in which they hibernate.
It helps that the Vancouver Island marmot is not a picky eater. In fact, our Island marmot is known to eat more than 50 different species of grasses, sedges, herbs and wild flowers. “As long as it’s green they will eat it,” Taylor says. “And they absolutely love wild flowers.”
Unlike most rodents, the Vancouver Island marmot is a slow breeding species. For one thing, a Vancouver Island marmot will not reach breeding age until three or four years. In addition, they only breed, on average, every other year. And when the stars line up and they do breed, they will only have two or three pups. “This slow breeding is a result of where they live,” explains Taylor.
Although the Vancouver Island marmot endures a difficult existence, for thousands of years they were able to support healthy colony numbers that could withstand difficult years without threat of extinction. What changed in the last several decades to negatively affect this delicate balance?
“We are not entirely sure why the Vancouver Island marmot began to decline in numbers in the 1980s,” Taylor says. “But it seems that changes in predator activity, climate change, and changes to the surrounding habitat have a negative effect on their numbers.”
Climate change is causing tree growth at higher elevations, making suitable colony areas harder to find. In addition, encroaching roads have created easier access for predators, such as wolves and cougars. Finally, in the 80s, logging at higher elevations became more widespread on Vancouver Island, and marmots moved to the recently cleared areas, as they resemble the marmots preferred habitat in a lot of ways. Unfortunately, these cut block migrations hurt the marmots in two ways. It dispersed the natural colonies, lowering their numbers and making repopulation more difficult, and the cut block colonies did not survive as well since the topography was not ideal for their long-term survival.
The main predators of Vancouver Island marmots are wolves, cougars and golden eagles. But the marmot population has always been small and incapable of supporting a predator population. Vancouver Island marmots are killed opportunistically as predators hunt other more plentiful prey such as deer, elk and rabbit.
Because the Vancouver Island marmot is not a quick breeder, coupled with their naturally precarious existence, it hasn’t been an easy job to help their population increase. However, the Marmot Recovery Foundation has been successful through a multi-pronged approach.
Firstly, they have utilized a captive breeding program based from locations across the country, such as the Calgary and the Toronto zoos, as well as a $1.2-million specialized facility on the Mount Washington ski hill. They then release these marmot pioneers into the wild hoping that they will survive, thrive and breed.
Secondly, a supplemental feeding program is conducted in the spring. The hope is that with supplemental feeding the marmots may breed more often. Thirdly, habitat management is necessary when climate change causes tree growth to creep into their natural habitat. Lastly, they will relocate marmots when they see that marmots have moved to unsuitable areas, such as cut blocks.
Timber companies on the Island have taken an active role in doing what they can to mitigate the damages logging practices have had on the Vancouver Island marmot population. This is a good thing, since two out of three of the colonies occur on privately owned lands held by MacMillan Bloedel Limited and TimberWest Limited.
“We have a good relationship with the timber companies on Vancouver Island,” says Taylor. In fact, according to the Private Forest Landowners Association website, since the Marmot Recovery Foundation’s inception, Island Timberlands and TimberWest have contributed more than $3 million to the foundation’s marmot recovery efforts.
Speaking of funding, we should be proud that it’s primarily individuals that have made it possible for the recovery efforts to continue. “For the most part, we have been supported by Canadians. Actually, we are 75 per cent funded by individuals, the rest is government and corporate donations,” Taylor says. “So it’s mostly donors. That’s what has allowed us to get to this point.”
And where are they in their conservation efforts? Currently, there are about 300 wild Vancouver Island marmots residing in 24 successful colonies in three regions on Vancouver Island. The ultimate recovery goal is to establish self-sustaining wild populations that number 400 to 600 in total. It is believed that once these numbers are reached, the Vancouver Island marmot species should be able to sustain their population without such active assistance. “We have a job to do—but we’d like to wrap it up and move on,” Taylor says. “Because when we move on we know we’ve been successful in our efforts. Here on Vancouver Island we have good marmot habitat. Full recovery is possible. They can thrive on their own.”
But the Vancouver Island marmots are not out of the woods yet, so to speak. For example, if the recovery program were to stop today, it’s possible that the marmot numbers would not be enough to sustain them indefinitely. As a result, the Marmot Recovery Program is actively seeking donations to help them in their final stretch of saving the Vancouver Island marmot. Individuals can give a one-time donation, or they can adopt a marmot, where they pledge $10 a month. The Adopt-A-Marmot program supports the captive breeding and release program, where each donor knows they are supporting a marmot that will eventually be released into the wild.

For more information and how to help go to www.marmots.org

Local freestyle skier Cassie Sharpe celebrates her gold medal win in the women’s halfpipe event at the X Games in Oslo, Norway last January. Photo by Shay Williams

Local freestyle skier Cassie Sharpe celebrates her gold medal win in the women’s halfpipe event at the X Games in Oslo, Norway last January. Photo by Shay Williams

The Comox Valley is quite an athletic place. We are surrounded by oceans, neuropathist
rivers, glaciers and mountains—which adds up to hundreds of opportunities to get outside, enjoy the outdoors, and excel in our sport of choice. So it should come as no surprise when there are home grown athletes from the Comox Valley who do quite well in the international sport scene. That being said, it may be time to dig out those maple leaf adorned flags, mittens and toques, and get ready to celebrate freestyle skier Cassie Sharpe, because she is travelling in a trajectory that is about to make us all very, very proud.

Cassie, 24, a member of the Canadian National Halfpipe Ski Team, recently won her first X Games gold medal in Oslo, Norway in the women’s halfpipe ski event. In case you’ve never heard of the X Games, they are a pretty big deal. In fact, the X Games are on par with the Olympics as a headliner game of the sport—where a gold medal means you are at the very top of your game.

Originally from Alberta, Cassie grew up in the Comox Valley. Her parents, Don and Chantal, made the move from Calgary back when Cassie and her two brothers were very young. The Sharpes moved to the Valley when Don landed a job as Director of Business Operations for Mount Washington Alpine Resort. It wasn’t long before the family was spending a lot of time on the mountain. And so it began—a love affair with skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking and all things that involve snow and/or gravity.

“We definitely have an athletic family,” says Cassie. “My oldest brother Doug, he’s living in China and designing mountain bike courses and competing in downhill mountain bike races. My younger brother Darcy is also on the Canadian National Snowboard Team and competes in the big air and slopestyle events. Growing up, we spent a lot of time on the mountain because my dad worked there. My brothers and I would go up with him early in the morning to ski every weekend.”

Don Sharpe remembers those early mornings. “It’s funny how their mom and I would have such a difficult time getting them all out of bed for school, but come the weekends, well that was another story,” he recalls. “It was not a problem for them to be up early enough to be in the car and ready to go by 7 or 7:30 am. In fact, many times they were sitting in the car waiting for me by the time I got out there! And that 45-minute drive up and down the mountain—they’d maybe sleep, but if not it was a good time to talk and stay connected.”

Cassie also fondly recalls the weekends on the ski hill. “My brothers and I were put in snow school, but we would ditch halfway through when the instructor wasn’t looking to hit the terrain park under the yellow chair. The place where all the hoodlums hung out!” she says, laughing. “At the terrain park we’d get pretty competitive with each other. We’d push each other to do more and we sort of grew from there.”

Don remembers the three kids skiing and how their energy together made them better on the snow. “It was more about, ‘If you can do that, then so can I.’ More of a feeling of camaraderie as well as competitiveness. And the skiing brought them closer. Every day on the mountain, they’d sit side by side by side, riding the ski lift up again and again. What most people don’t realize is that time on the lift is time to get to know one another. As a result, they are all pretty close.”

Winning the X Games in Oslo, Norway was a dream come true for Cassie and for her family as well. “When I was growing up, the X Games was the dream and the biggest event you could go to before the Olympic Games added our sport in 2014,” she says.

Don remembers how his kids grew up watching the X Games with awe and imagining themselves competing in them someday. “The X Games has been sort of the Olympics of the sport for many years. While the X Games were happening it was all my wife and I would hear about. It was massive to the kids. They would race home from school to watch the games. So when Cassie and Darcy were able to compete in the X Games—well that, in and of itself, was a huge deal. And for Cassie to win the gold medal—it was incredible!”

Cassie’s win in Oslo last winter was only her second career X Games attempt, and with a score of 88.33, it was a clear victory and enough to top four-time X Games champion and Olympic Gold medalist Maddie Bowman, who had a final score of 85.33. “It’s rare to do as well as I did in only a second X Games showing, so I’m pretty excited,” Cassie says. “And Maddie Bowman has been number one for three years now, but I’m finally giving her a run for her money. I’m on her tails now.”

Cassie’s victory was also the first Canadian women’s gold in halfpipe since 2012. “I went into the European X Games with some determination as I’d finished in fourth place in the Aspen X Games,” she says. “Even though Aspen was my first X Games, I was still pretty bummed about that, so I really wanted to do better in Oslo.”

Her halfpipe coach, Trennon Paynter, advised Cassie to not hold back in Oslo. He encouraged her to go big for each and every run, as if each run were her only try at it. In Aspen, Sharpe had held back, and according to her coach, it had cost her a spot on the podium. She didn’t want Oslo to be a repeat performance of Aspen, so she listened to her coach and it paid off in spades.

Like her brother Darcy, Sharpe has her sights set on Olympic gold. And with this year being a selection year for the Canadian Olympic Team, hopes and expectations are high that these talented athletes from our local ski hill will be representing Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Snowboarder Darcy Sharpe also has his sights set on the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. A member of the Canadian National Snowboard Team, Darcy, above, competes in big air and slopestyle events. Photo by Chris Witwicki

Snowboarder Darcy Sharpe also has his sights set on the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. A member of the Canadian National Snowboard Team, Darcy, above, competes in big air and slopestyle events. Photo by Chris Witwicki

“I think they both have a really good chance of getting onto the Canadian Olympic Team,” says their dad. “As a selection year, this is an important year for both of them.”

Adds Cassie: “That’s my ultimate goal—to compete in the Olympics.”

Cassie’s brother Darcy hopes to represent Canada by competing in two snowboarding events, slopestyle and big air, the latter which was just added as an Olympic sport for the 2018 Olympics. Cassie hopes to make all of us proud by owning the Olympic halfpipe, and since she has already won a gold medal in that event, it is entirely possible that she’ll do just that.

So what is the halfpipe anyway? Well, we should start by saying that most mortal humans would find riding the halfpipe absolutely terrifying. In fact, the sport is labeled as dangerous compared to other events, and helmets are required equipment during competitions. The halfpipe is called such because, well, it’s shaped exactly like a pipe cut in half. The height of the pipe is 22 feet and it’s generally carved into the dirt before the snow falls, then cut with a special snow cutting-cat called a Zaugg to form it into the halfpipe shape.

When halfpipe skiers perform they ski back and forth down the length of the pipe, using the centrifugal force created to push them into the air where they perform tricks before landing and continuing their ride. It’s a dangerous sport because the skiers reach high speeds and altitude while riding the pipe, and if they make a mistake they are not landing on soft snow.

Cassie Sharpe in competition

Cassie Sharpe in competition

“The ice is pretty hard to land on,” Cassie admits. “I wear hip pads because I’ve had a few hematomas from landing on the ice so many times. I suppose it toughens you up over time. I’ve broken my thumbs eight times each since I started riding the halfpipe.”

She hasn’t only broken her thumbs; she’s also broken her back. In fact, she won the gold medal in Oslo with the injury.

“Last winter when I was training I stress fractured my lower back—the area just above the hips,” Cassie says matter of factly. “I injured myself in early December and won the gold in late January. I had an MRI right after New Years and was told I fractured my back and wouldn’t be allowed to compete in Oslo, but I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I pushed against the doctors wishes and got the ‘okay’ to compete. I was in pain but I didn’t take any pain killers. That’s because I don’t believe in any drugs while I compete. Instead, I wore a corset back brace while I was practicing, which I’d take off for the competitions.”

Don doesn’t seem surprised that his daughter competed with such a serious injury, “Cassie wasn’t going to let anything keep her from competing in the X Games,” he says.

Because the sport is so hard on the body, competitors usually retire from the sport early. “Normally people only compete into their late 20s or early 30s,” Cassie says. “It’s the knees that are the biggest thing to take someone out of the sport. However, people usually do it as long as their body holds up.”

Today Cassie has recovered from her back injury and is maintaining a rigorous training schedule that lasts all year. In fact, she has just returned from Wanaka, New Zealand where she was training at their local ski hill, Cadrona. She is back in Canada for a couple weeks but soon heading off for more training. “The new season is coming up,” Cassie says. “So the team leaves for Colorado on November 26. There we will compete in the Copper World Cup, which is an Olympic qualifier.”

After Colorado, Cassie will continue her busy training schedule. “Right now Darcy has just returned from Switzerland where he was training. I’ve just gotten back from New Zealand but we’re off again soon. Really, there isn’t a time that the team is not actually training. We train during the winter and spring in Whistler. In July we go to Mt. Hood in Oregon. The rest of the summer we’re back in Whistler to train on the glacier, and then in September it’s back down to New Zealand. There’s never really a long period of time when I’m not skiing. It’s pretty great. And besides skiing there is always the gym, biking and running.”

Although the Sharpe kids are scattered around the globe it’s clear that the Sharpe family is still close and that the parents are very proud of the adventurous and successful lives all three of their kids are living.

“They are all great athletes and great people too. We are both so proud of them,” says Don. “They have so much fun doing what they do, and Chantal and I, we have so much fun watching them. They enjoy what they do and that’s the whole point.”

For more information about Cassie’s upcoming events go to www.freestylecanada.ski
To keep track of Darcy Sharpe www.canadasnowboard.ca