Q&A with Manuel Osborne-Paradis
You have 11 World Cup podiums, three World Cup wins, a medal at World Championships, and you were the first Canadian to claim World Cup victories in both super-G and downhill. Did you always dream about such a career, or did you ever have other plans that didn’t include ski racing?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a mountain biker. I grew up seeing them in my backyard in Whistler. But ultimately, ski racing had a bit more structure so it was easier to stay committed. With skiing, there was dryland coaching and a ski coach. Skiing was the right sport for me, but I would say both sports are my two loves.
What has helped you stay motivated over the years?
Keeping the motivation high over the years has always been tough. Life changes a lot from being young when all you have is skiing, to growing up and having a family, mortgages, and life getting in the way. But you always go back to the passion of skiing. Skiing is so much fun, and it’s in my blood. Living in the mountains – surrounded by snow and winter – it’s so easy to be inspired to ski. Skiing is part of my being and it’s what gets me up every day. When it’s right in front of you, it’s easy to stay motivated.
Are there any concrete goals you’d like to achieve before closing this chapter?
I have no concrete goals before the end of my career, but I do want to be more consistent and land on the podium more often. I think I have more to prove on how good I can be.
Your bronze medal at the 2017 World Championships in St. Moritz came out of the blue as you were 25th in the super-G ranking at that point and you hadn't earned a single top-10 result in the previous 15 races in that discipline. Could you even believe it when you crossed the finish line with bib n°26?
In the World Champs super-G, I really did believe I could be on the podium. It had been a long time since a top 10, but before the World Champs I had some good bib numbers and good results. I really felt like my skiing was really coming along. And I knew at World Champs that with a good start number, I could prove I was skiing well in super-G. I had a great training camp before World Champs, and I went into that race with a lot of confidence.
Was it even more special to be able to share the podium with your teammate Erik Guay?
It’s an individual sport, but it’s always nice to share success and rewards with your teammates. It’s great when you are able to succeed and meet your goals, but it is tough when you go back to the hotel and you’re the only one that has achieved their goals. But to have two members of our team on the podium made it such a great event and party. We were really able to celebrate as a team ,and that’s what made it so special. It was amazing to come together as a team and celebrate that.
Did that result provide further momentum for your career?
I think the World Champs medal did give me more momentum in my career. The summers are long and training camps are long, and it’s a long time to be away from home. But when you are rewarded with success, it’s all worth it. It has inspired me to keep going in my career. Working with HEAD also really inspired me to be good for World Champs. They really supported me leading up to that season and throughout the season. It was a whole team effort, but moving to HEAD skis and having their skis focus on World Champs really helped me push and led the way to that result.
You started your World Cup career in Chamonix back in 2005 when Michael Walchhofer, Kristian Ghedina, and Hermann Maier were racing. Alpine skiing has evolved quite a bit since regarding equipment, course preparation, and safety. Did you like anything better back when you started?
It’s hard to say what I liked better in 2005 because I was new to the sport and I liked everything about it. I didn’t judge or assess what was good or bad. It just was. I know the jumps were bigger and the courses were a little icier, but changing those rules to make it safer has kept guys around and kept careers longer. What I liked back then was how straight the courses were. The skis weren’t as fast so you could tuck more and go straighter, and I loved being in my tuck.
And what is better now?
What’s better now is the safety, including the airbags, widening runs, the speed and the preparation of snow. It’s also much better how FIS and the athletes communicate. Everything has gotten better. We’re still innovating and moving forward as far as safety in the sport is concerned, which is a positive thing. As safety gets better and better, the sport can continue to grow. It’s something you can put your kids into knowing the dangers are fewer. Kids are always going to push the limits, and safety is a huge factor in the success of the sport.
Among active competitors, you have the fourth highest number of World Cup starts in downhill (you are tied with Svindal with 109 behind Fill - 137, Guay - 119 , and Théaux - 113). How do you use knowledge of the track to your advantage in speed races?
I actually did not know I had the fourth most starts! But it does make sense since I’ve been around quite a bit. Knowing the courses is essential to success in this sport. The knowledge of the course, knowing the little aspects helps you make a big difference on race day. But having skied the courses so many times, there are also places you’ve crashed so you need to overcome those demons. It’s also nice to know the locations, especially coming from North America. Now I know the hotel owners, the food we’ll eat, how we’ll get to places. It’s easier to stay calm and collected in between the races.
Which course do you like the best on the tour, and why?
I’ve always liked the Saslong in Val Gardena the most of all races. I think it was the mood of our whole team when we first got there. The history of Canada is great there. It’s one of those race courses that whether you were first or last, you always had fun skiing down it. The camel jumps in the middle scare you a little, but the rest of the course is a lot of fun. Once you get through the camels, there is always a smile on your face.
Do you pass along any of this knowledge to the younger athletes on your team?
I try to pass on the knowledge of all the courses to the younger teammates, but I don’t want to give them too much information they don’t want because skiing is so individual in your approach. Until I’m approached, I usually don’t bring up what I believe you may need to do in certain places. As I’ve gotten to know the athletes a bit more, it’s easier to find the line of what will help or hinder my teammates.
Thanks to your honest and positive mindset and entertaining personality, you are well-known and appreciated on the World Cup tour. How do you feel on the circuit with the other teams and athletes?
I have always considered the World Cup, especially the downhill side with guys staying around so long, as a family. Everyone is competing, but you’re not really competing against one another. You’re competing against the mountain, so it’s easy to work together. You can help each other out in the approach. I was also mentored quite a bit at a younger age. Having the older guys pass along knowledge and insight really helped me to understand we’re all there to help each other. Bode Miller even helped me at Kitzbühel one year when I was scared. I think that for coaching staffs from other teams and younger athletes, I really try to be as nice and open as I can.
A lot of aspects are standardized on the World Cup, but is there still room for fun and spontaneity?
I would actually say there is not a lot of room on the tour for extra activities and having a lot of fun. It’s a job and there’s so much risk involved, it’s worth taking note of mental energy and making sure you’re always ready to go. That being said, Saturday nights at the races we always try to go out and have a drink and get out of the hotel room. Lots of times you see other athletes or teams that have travelled. You need to enjoy yourself but planning to ensure mental alertness on race day is important.
How has your character influenced your career as a skier?
I’m not sure how my character has influenced my career. I’m sure there are pros and cons of who I am. Being too nice may take away the edge but opens opportunities to training with other teams or staying with people when you’re sick and tired of hotels. This is who I am, and trying to be something else would be a bigger hindrance on my career.
In 2016, you and your wife became parents for the first time. Sloane is now one-and-a-half years old and a big part of your family. Do you enjoy life as a father?
Oh yak, I totally love being a dad! Dads have it pretty good, I have to admit. Especially the first year. Sloane needed her mom more than me so it was probably a good thing that I had ski racing to go to. It’s so amazing, and I just love coming home and just hanging around the house. It’s definitely something that’s life changing but I’m adapting and loving the new lifestyle.
How much time do you get to spend with your family? Do they come to Europe during the winter?
I don’t get a ton of time with my family, but I appreciate what I have. Skiing takes up quite a bit of time, and I’m on the road a lot. The last two years they haven’t come over to Europe, but we’ve talked about them maybe coming over this year. Sloane has a ton of energy, so sitting on a plane may not be ideal for her. I hope they come but at the same time, Alpine Canada and Audi have been fantastic with letting me go home to see my family. And when I get home, Panorama sets up perfect training so I can be home and get world-class training.
Did the birth of your daughter cause you to question your life as a World Cup speed skier?
I get that question a lot – and I would have to say no. It inspired me to be a better ski racer. I have to feed one more mouth and be the best that I can. It’s not really for just myself anymore. It’s for someone else’s life. The more successful I am, the more successful her life gets to be and being someone that she can look up is important to me.
Is she set to become a successful World Cup skier like her dad?
I don’t know if Sloane is set to be a World Cup skier just yet. She can be whatever she wants! Right now, she thinks every sport is a ski. She saw Sidney Crosby in a magazine and said he was skiing! There’s a lot of other athletes that “ski” to Sloane. As she gets older, that may change. I’m happy for her to do whatever makes her happy. But I know she will ski and we will have great family ski trips and that’s my favourite part of the sport. The chairlift rides, the après, and the holiday spirit of being in the mountains.