Canadian racer Hélie switches to ski cross

11 May 2012 09:14
JL Helie
JL Helie -

Canadian World Cup speed skier Louis-Pierre Hélie is looking forward to experiencing the thrill of head-to-head racing after making the switch from alpine to ski cross. 

The 26-year-old from Berthierville, Que., is hoping to carve out a new career as a member of the Canadian ski cross team – the reigning Nations’ Cup champions – following a successful seven-year stint as a national team skier specializing in downhill, super-G and super combined.

“It’s a big change but everyone is supporting me,” said Hélie, who will begin the transition to ski cross at prospect training group sessions that will be held on- and off-snow throughout the summer. 

“I did a few ski cross races when I was maybe 13 or 14 in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Que., and I really loved it. I really like racing when guys are around you – it makes you push yourself to the max. Passing people and taking chances – ski cross is really exciting.”

Hélie, a former Quebec Ski Team racer, has been a member of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team since 2005. A former water-skier, he realized his dream of competing in the Olympics when he finished 30th in super combined at the Vancouver Games in 2010. He suffered serious injuries in a crash in Bormio, Italy, in December 2010, but made a return to the World Cup circuit last season, bringing his alpine career to a close by winning the downhill title at the U.S. national championships in Aspen, USA, in February.

“Coming back was a big deal,” Hélie said. “It was tough for me to regain my confidence in downhills but I had some really good training and I really showed myself that I could do it. I overcame not so much the fear, but the lack of confidence I had. I was really happy with that – at least I ended the year like that.”

Hélie first considered making the switch four years ago when he took part in a ski cross event in Mont-Tremblant, Que. Somewhat ironically, Hélie competed alongside his good buddy and current ski cross star Brady Leman, of Calgary, Alta., who was then also an alpine skier. Leman made a successful transition to ski cross and, after battling back from several long-term injuries, he finished the 2011-12 season ranked second in the world, narrowly missing out on the men’s ski cross crystal globe.

“We both loved it,” Hélie said of trying ski cross alongside Leman. “I decided to do one more year with the alpine team, which was one of my best years ever. I had an amazing year, winning the overall Nor-Am title. The next year was the Olympics.”

Although competing in Vancouver-Whistler was the highlight of his years as an alpine racer, a career-best result in the World Cup downhill in Val Gardena, Italy, in December 2010 was also very special. 

“My 13th-place result in Val Gardena was really, really amazing,” Hélie said. “Starting so far back (56th) with no expectations and then to ski like I really can . . . I remember crossing the line and seeing the No. 1 and a number next to it and being so happy I was under 20th - and then under 15. That was really amazing and really exciting.”

Paul Kristofic, vice-president of sport for Alpine Canada and previously head coach of the men’s alpine team, praised Hélie’s work ethic and determination. 

“Louis has been a great teammate and athlete with the alpine team, bringing values of hard work and dedication to his career,” Kristofic said. “We have no doubt that he will excel through this transition to ski cross and remain part of the Alpine Canada family.”

Hélie is planning to spend his summer training alongside Leman at Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park. The first Nakiska Ski Cross World Cup event is due to kick off the 2012-13 World Cup season from Dec. 6-8.

“Everything about it is exciting for me,” Hélie said of making the switch to ski cross. “It seems like everyone’s excited to have me on board. I can’t wait!”