5 Things You Should Know About...Marie-Michele Gagnon
By Michael Mastarciyan
It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this, that the proposition of winning a great big, furry, Lapland reindeer along with flowers and cold hard cash, is a pretty exciting notion for someone who grew up skiing and racing at a hill called Mont-Orignal (which means Moose Mountain) in the hilly hinterland surrounding beautiful Lac Etchemin, Quebec.
When I broke the news recently to Canadian tech specialist Marie-Michele Gagnon - that the organizers at this weekend’s World Cup slalom races in Levi, Finland were going to give the winners their very own reindeer, she was absolutely thrilled!
“Wahahaha! I didn’t know that! That’s sweet! Though, what would we do with it?” Gagnon playfully asked.
When I informed Mitch (as she’s called by friends) that the winner would be the owner and would get to name the reindeer, but the great big beastie would in reality be free to roam around Lapland, and her only contact with her new pet would be via pictures and social media, she took it fairly well.
“Oh so you don’t get to take it home? Bummer! If I ever won a reindeer I’d give it a cool name like Fifi, which would be kind of short for Finland, but with a cute twist, and wouldn’t it be sweet if the reindeer recognized you when it saw you? Like the lion video on Youtube. Ever seen it?”
Pet reindeers, prize money and flowers aside, anyone who knows Mitch Gagnon knows the real motivation that fuels her racing is her unbelievably potent competitive nature, and her superhuman desire to win.
With nineteen World Cup top-10s in slalom and GS (which include a slalom 3rd place in Are, Sweden in March 2012) Gagnon is on the cusp of breaking out as a full-fledged tech superstar.
When she’s not living out of a duffle bag on the White Circus, Gagnon, an affirmed travel/adreneline junkie, splits her home base visits in Quebec and Alberta with a sprinkle of California-time spent with longtime boyfriend and US Ski Team speed up-and-comer Travis Ganong.
I cornered Mitch recently and asked her to share some personal info her growing legion of fans might not know about her. So without further ado, here then are 5 Things You Should Know about Marie-Michele Gagnon...
1. Mitch is a ski resort owner...well sort of...
“I own part of the ski area in my hometown now - Mont-Orignal! I’m part of a co-operative of about 45 people who own the mountain together. When the owner of the mountain announced he was goinig to sell it about a year or so ago, the community got together, formed a co-op, and bought the hill. I grew up at Mont-Orignal, it’s a very special place for me. When I was a kid I’d be there from 8-4 every Saturday and Sunday. It’s where I learned to ski, and where I got my passion for the sport, and it’s because of Mont-Orignal that I’m where I am now, and I want other kids in my hometown to have the same opportunities I had.
It’s especially important to me given all the tech stuff surrounding kids these days, Facebook, Twitter, video games, kids really need to get outside, so I thought it was important to keep the ski hill open. If Mont-Orignal wasn’t there, the town would only have an arena for recreation in the winter, and I don’t think that’s enough.
There’s 24 trails at Mont-Orignal, a six-pack chair, and we have a Poma too. It’s really reknowned for it’s snow park with huge jumps, and a really cool half pipe. It’s only 330 metres of vertical, but it’s a really fantastic place to spend time at when there’s snow on the ground! I try to ski there about once a year if I can because I travel so much, but if I’m home, and I have a break, I go. I know everyone in town, and all the kids, I like to try to inspire them if I can.”
2. Mitch used to be a competitive figure skater...
“I used to compete in figure skating before alpine skiing. My figure skating career didn’t last very long though, since I had to stop it as soon as I started alpine ski racing.
My mom enrolled me in figure skating when I was little. It was fun and I’d always try to do ballsy things like flips in the air and stuff like that, but I quickly figured out that it wasn’t my kind of crowd. I figured that skiing was a lot more my type of thing. I’m really not an elegant person, I was kind of a super tomboy, and it’s kind of funny that I even tried figure skating, I think I did it to go against my tomboyish nature. But I loved being outside and figure skating is kind of an inside thing. I grew to be more girly eventually, but I was really a tomboy at that time, and I really wanted to hang out with boys and other girls who were tomboyish like me, who just like to be outside and do all kinds of outside stuff.
People think skiing is a sport that’s dangerous because you can crash. It’s true, and I broke my leg in a ski crash once, but you crash a lot when you’re figure skating too. You fall all the time when you’re trying to do jumps and flips, especially when you’re trying to learn doing Axels, that’s really hard to figure out, the timing and stuff. I never knocked myself out or anything, but I fell on my butt a lot of times! I only competed in one or two events. I fell during the competitions and came to the conclusion that I liked skiing more. I skated between the ages of 7 and 12 and that was enough for me.”
3. Despite being Canadian...Mitch hates bacon!
“Growing up, all five kids in my house, hated bacon, we all thought it was disgusting and never even tried it. To this day, I’ve never even tried bacon, and I don’t want to, it just doesn’t look good to me. I love ham and other kinds of pork, it’s just bacon that I don’t like. Oh wait, and speck, the European cold cut meat, I don’t like that either.
Speaking of foods I don’t like, I also can’t stand cilantro! I really dislike the taste of it, but I don’t want to. I really want to try to like it because it’s in almost every Mexican or Indian dish, and I love Mexican and Indian food. I always ask waiters to see if the chef can leave the cilantro out of my plate and it’s really frustrating.”
4. Mitch is addicted to extreme sports...especially mountain biking...
“I love extreme sports, bungee jumping, skydiving, anything that gets your heart pumping! If the opportunity to try to do an extreme sport is there, I take it! I’ve bungee jumped twice. I’ve gone skydiving. I’ve done canyon swings, I always pick the highest or biggest challenge there is when I’m in that kind of situation, whatever will be the most adrenaline pumping. We get all that adrenaline from skiing, so we seek it every time!
Mountain biking also really gets my blood going! I never really tried it until I got on the national team. We started mountain biking for workouts and I fell in love with it immediately. I try to do it at least three times a week in the summer. Travis (Ganong) and I always try to match our off-season dryland workouts so we can do them together. Sometimes we do bike sprints up mountains and then enjoy the downhill part together. I think mountain biking is really similar to skiing, especially the downhill portion, but I love going uphill too, it’s super challenging and the greatest workout of all time. Your heart rate is like 180, and mentally you’re still there, and you want to keep going because you have a goal. Sometimes on a spin bike, when your heart rate is up to 180 and you’re just looking at the floor in front of you, it’s kind of discouraging and boring even. When you’re mountain biking you always have a goal. There’s challenging routes and your heart rate is going high and your getting fit. The downhill part is like skiing, you have to pick a line and start your turn early so you can take the speed down on the course, it’s fun to practice it and to get better.
When we’re in Alberta during the summer, we bike to the gym every day. We have a pump track at the Nordic centre where we train, so after lifting we go there on the way home. The track has all kinds of rolls, bobsled turns, 180 turns, and stuff like that. We just like to bomb down, it’s super fun and exciting, and the best thing is, it’s both a workout and a thrill at the same time.
Mountain biking is a real social thing too. We bike with friends all the time, especially when we’re in Canmore because there’s always so many people around who are into it also. One of the trails we love is the Minnewanka Trail in Banff. We pack lunches, you can go riding for hours, stop by the side of the lake, sit down for a meal and then go home afterwards, it’s awesome!”
5. Mitch’s favorite hobby is photo-blogging...
“I love to tell stories and the way I do it is through photography and blogging. It also helps me stay in touch with the people I love, friends and family, because I’m always on the road and I don’t see them very often. So I love taking pictures, especially when I’m travelling. I love to show people where I go, what I see, and how I see the world. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate what I’m seeing, so my way of showing them what I’m up to is through photos. It’s also like a diary of my life. Everything is going by so quickly in my life right now, I know some time in the future I’ll look back on it and be happy that I logged it all.
Nature is beautiful and there’s so much to share, that’s why I love to photo-blog. Like I said, most of my blogging is done through pictures. I think the pictures speak for themselves. I’ve really learned a lot from Anna Goodman who’s an amazing photographer, and through Travis, who loves nature. He has this specific way of looking at it that’s really different, and that’s influenced me a lot.
We’ll be driving and he’s always noticing things. He’s always eyeing chutes and stuff when we drive by mountains and will tell me, ‘Hey look at that one, that’s definitely skiable,’ things like that. Now I’m the same way, and I think I’d miss stuff like that before, but now he’s sort of awakened me to it.”