Over the holidays, a time when most of us look forward to some festive R&R, Ali was clipping into her skis to finish off a six-week World Cup tour through Europe. After the World Cup in Sestriere, Ali and her teammates had a two-and-half-week training block in Austria. On top of some physical recovery, the team enjoyed a “Secret Santa” gift exchange together over Christmas before jumping back into time on the snow. “I’m super close to my family so it’s tough for me, but this year we had more Canadians on staff and it was nice to have a big group celebrating together. It’s hard for all of us but we make the most of it because we’re all in the same boat,” she says of being abroad over the holiday season, “It’s a sacrifice, but it’s worth it in the long run.” As she set her sights on the World Cup in Semmering, Austria, Ali capitalized on the time to build herself back up to race pace over the three days prior to the event, “You don’t always get a two-week training block during the season, so it was nice to have some time to work on technical things. I focused less on timing and more on the technical side of my skiing, instead of just pushing 100% every run.”
Ali and the team traveled to the hill in Semmering the night prior to the race on December 29. “I’ve been here once before,” she says of the venue, “You really have to push the whole time because the hill isn’t helping you. You have to make all the speed yourself. Compared to the other races, (the hill is) more flat and you’re trying to generate your own speed the whole time.” Her commitment to training the fundamentals paid off with a stellar first run. “I think my first run was really solid. I was super focused and went out and did what I wanted to do. I was happy with my first run and where it put me — in 8th — but I knew I had more in the tank,” says Ali as she reflects on her performance. “I had a goal to be more level at every gate with my upper body,” she says of her approach to the second run, “but I didn’t feel super comfortable on my skis from the start. I had a little bit of an equipment thing which was a bummer. But I think feeling that way and still getting to the finish line and getting a result was positive.” In spite of feeling any uneasiness in the second run Ali’s control and precision still landed her a sixteenth pace finish overall. “I wanted to take what I learned (from Semmering) into the next training block,” she says.
During the week between the Semmering and Zagreb World Cups, Ali followed her proven pattern of rest into increasing volume on the slopes leading up to the race. She also made a point to sit down with her coaches and ski technician to understand the equipment malfunction in Semmering, “We talked it through to figure out if it was something that I wasn’t ready for or if the equipment just didn’t perform properly. We brought up a new race ski and I was able to move on quickly for Zagreb.” The Zagreb World Cup, on January 4, was a city race — a format that Ali is no stranger to, having been to this venue multiple times in the past. However, some volatile weather added another twist to the team’s event preparations, “We weren’t able to train on the hill at all. They were struggling with having enough snow. It rained a lot and it was really warm the weeks leading up to it. They were making snow and pushing it on the race hill. It was a lower start so there were no warm up courses either.” Any and all adversity aside, Ali put on a stellar performance in the first run, which positioned her for a possible podium finish. “I felt good going into the second run. I knew what I wanted to work on and what I wanted to do better. I wanted to give it my all and I didn’t want to come down regretting not pushing as hard as I could,” she says of the race. Unfortunately, Ali straddled and did not finish the run, “I don’t regret coming out the gate strong. There were a few things I could have tweaked between runs for the next time I'm in that position.”
But it was at the Flachau World Cup on January 10, where Ali truly shone. After a solid first run, she put in a near-perfect second run, securing herself a seat in the leader box for a handful of skiers. “I felt really good coming into the race because I was skiing really good and had a clear focus. I backed off a little bit in the first run because I was a little tired from not sleeping well the night before. It wasn’t bad skiing but I didn’t come down the hill as aggressively as I had been skiing,” she says in reflection. “I was in eighteenth after the first run and knew I didn’t have much to lose, so I was able to go for it.” Flachau marked the first race of the season where Ali raced a faster time in the second run over the first — and an eleventh place finish made the end of the month-and-a-half trip that much sweeter.
Overall, Ali’s performances in Semmering, Zagreb, and Flachau held unique personal successes that continue to refine her skills at an elite level. For now, she’s looking forward to time at home with her family, training with her school team, and getting back to collegiate racing. “It’s going to be really nice to sleep in my own bed,” she says with a laugh.