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The woman who won X Games with stress fractures in her back

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Oslo X Games women’s ski superpipe champion Cassie Sharpe talks frankly with us about Olympic dreams, women’s freeskiing, and the role that the ski media plays in the sport.

Her name is Cassie Sharpe, but a lot of people just call her Cass. A professional freeskier from British Columbia, Cassie recently won the women’s superpipe contest at the Oslo X Games, putting her in the spotlight of the freeskiing theater. Currently in Whistler preparing for next season, she answers our questions with a refreshing honesty.

cassie sharpe--david malacrida-2
Age, birthday: 23; 14 September 1992
Home town: Comox, British Columbia, Canada
Home resort: Whistler and Mount Washington
Skiing since: Age 10
Best results : 1st, 2016 Oslo X Games Superpipe / 2nd, 2016 Breckenridge Dew Tour Superpipe / 1st, 2015 Tignes FIS World Cup Halfpipe
Influences: Sarah Burke, Megan Gunning, my brothers, Beyoncé (always)
Hobbies beside skiing: Sewing, hiking, adventuring, traveling, exploring, learning new things (I’m currently trying to learn how to do calligraphy)

[A little background on this interview: after Cassie won the Oslo X Games back in February, she caught some flak Downdays, particularly from our editor David Malacrida who criticized, in his own unique fashion, Cassie’s lack of grab and “mogul style” on the sizable cork 900 iron cross in her run. David got in touch with Cassie to make amends and let her speak her mind—this interview is the result. -Ed.]

Hey Cass, how did you get into freeskiing?
I started freestyle skiing when my parents moved us onto Vancouver Island and my dad started a new management job at Mount Washington. We would go up every weekend with my dad and he put us in ski lessons, eventually we would sneak away from the instructors to go to the park. When my dad caught on, we were allowed to go out to the park on our own. My brothers both eventually switched to snowboarding, but I stuck to skiing, joined Mount Washington Freestyle ski team and started going to the BC Series competitions in Big Air and Moguls.

You won X Games in Olso this season. Was winning X Games your biggest dream, or there is another one even bigger that you want to realize?
I think winning the X Games is every athlete’s dream. I grew up watching the X Games and for a long time that was the ceiling of our sport. X Games was the highest point we could make it to. So for sure it was one of my biggest dreams to win a gold medal there.   

However, now we’ve got our sport added into the Olympics and that is a very highly sought after goal. I definitely want to make it into the Olympics and win the gold there as well.

I read you hurt your back before Dew Tour. How did you manage to continue skiing after that?
I did, in Copper I stress fractured my back two days before competing in Dew Tour, although we didn’t know it was so bad until mid-January. The support staff we have for the team was convinced it was just muscular and that I had to work out and make it stronger, I had to “work through the pain.”

Eventually it got to a point where I didn’t feel like I was making progress and it might not just be muscular, so I got an X-ray. It clearly showed a fracture in my lower back. I competed at X Games in Aspen and then went home to get an MRI, which showed I had a stress fracture on both sides of my spine. 

Although this was a way worse outcome then I was expecting, I was finally starting to feel better. I was getting more movement back and I felt like I could still perform in Oslo. Against the wishes of the doctors (I fought their advice to rehab and ‘chill’) I went to Oslo to compete. I wore a back brace every day during training to help stabilize me, and when I had finished my warm-up laps I took it off to start doing my tricks. I was in constant pain the whole time when I woke up, while I skied, on the bus home, while I slept. I can’t think of a moment when I felt no pain. Thinking back to it though, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m glad I pushed through it to compete in what I love.

cassie sharpe--david malacrida-3

You are a part of the Canadian freeski team, how does it work being on a team in comparison to competing alone?
I love being on the team. I feel very lucky to have the team support, the coaches and extra staff available to me and the government funding of being on the Canadian National Team is a huge blessing. 

Before I made the National Team I was on the B.C. team and then moved up to the Winsport Team (Western Canada based out of Calgary). Having been on those teams was critical to getting me to where I am today. However, throughout my time on those teams, I could barely support myself financially so I’m very lucky my parents supported and believed in me as much as they did to help me get here. 

Having the team around when you’re learning new tricks helps hype you up and it’s also nice to have everybody around on during days off. I love being part of a small crew that travels around together, having people you know, relate to and have fun with is always really nice to be around. 

Are you ready to dedicate the next years to the dream of the Olympics? Do you get bored sometimes giving so much time and effort to freeskiing?
I am definitely happy to dedicate the next couple of years to making my Olympic dream happen! Being away from home and loved ones is probably the hardest part of this career choice, being away from them all the time while maintaining relationships is hard. But if you find the right people to share your life with they’ll understand.

I never get bored of skiing and this lifestyle. I am so happy to travel the world to compete in something that I enjoy! 

You said you want to be a role model. What do you want to show and say to the young girls who are starting to freeski?
First of all, I would say don’t take anyone’s shit. Don’t listen to the haters and the people who are trying to drag you down.

Freestyle skiing is exactly that, it’s freestyle. It’s what you want it to be. It’s artistic and beautiful, you can do whatever you want to do with it. You choose your tricks, you choose your style, you choose how you present yourself.
If there was something I’d tell the girls coming up through the freestyle world, it’s to ‘do you’ and keep doing you no matter what people say. Everything you do is perfect and however your story plays out or however successful you are, it’s on you.

“There are going to be people along the way who try to undercut your success but if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you. Someday when you get where you’re going you’ll look around and you’ll know that it was you and the people that love you who put you there and that will be the greatest feeling in the world” – My main girl Taylor Swift

Girls needs more media coverage as you probably agree but most girls are mainly competitors. Do you think they should do more videos and more projects to show more of what they do? Do you want to be a part of that as well? 

Definitely! I really would love to be a part of a video project, getting a bunch of girls together to rip up the park or pipe would be epic.

I think you say that girls mostly compete because there is media coverage around competitions. What you don’t always see is the girls making rad videos and collaborations because there is less hype and coverage around that type of thing.

Unless you follow these girls on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, you’re going to miss it because a lot of websites take the opportunity to write articles about what girls are doing wrong instead of what they’re doing right.

Here’s some recent girl hype:
Nine Queens – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZeiUDpxAzs
Maad Maude – https://vimeo.com/147541951
Recess – Maddie Bowman – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tQ5eCwZPO0
Tatum Manod – http://www.redbull.com/en/snow/stories/1331751148082/watch-freeskier-tatum-monods-2015-season-edit 

What are the boundaries and setbacks women in freeskiing are facing that are deterring them from moving forward?

First of all, I feel like there are tons of women pushing the boundaries of skiing, not facing boundaries.

A lot of women are getting injured though, trying to push the boundaries of skiing due to the media, judges and peers pushing us to ‘keep up’ to the men. I can’t talk for everyone but for myself I try to only compete new tricks when they’re ready. But feeling so much pressure, we try to put tricks into a competition setting without perhaps being overly ready.

That being said, we still will continue to push ourselves, grab our skis and put on the show. Skiing is a passion and pushing ourselves and our competitors is part of the fun.

cassie sharpe--david malacrida
Do you think there is a kind of rule in freeskiing that we can’t say negative things, because it’s such a small community? 

I don’t think there is a ‘rule’, I just think there is an appropriate way to write an article about sensitive subjects. When you write an article personally attacking the athletes who are just doing what they love, that’s the issue. The problem is the personal attacks against women.

There is absolutely a way to voice your opinion about judging, grabs and perhaps the way freestyle skiing should be making the changes to what puts who on the podium. I agree to an extent, but when the judges are rewarding degree of difficulty instead of grabs, you give the judges what they want. So perhaps that is a conversation to have amongst the AFP and FIS to find the best way to make this work for everyone to be happy.

The only issue with that is if we start rewarding ‘style’ and ‘grabs’ more then we are rewarding degree of difficulty, then the conversation will be that girls are doing smaller and safer tricks, but it’ll ultimately come down to the fact that girls haven’t got the big tricks dialed with grabs yet, so they might as well not do them if they aren’t going to be scored well. And that’s where the problem comes in, there is ALWAYS going to be an issue with women’s skiing. Until we somehow figure out how to do double corks like the guys, someone is always going to have something to say about it.

So all that being said.. what do the people want? Style plus grabs plus less difficulty, or individual style plus harder tricks plus possibly less grabs? It’s always going to be a hot topic.

Anything else you want to say?
I think all I have to say is to the media. Before you write an article tearing us apart for what we do and put all our time and energy into, think about it as if we were your daughters, sisters, mothers… Would you still write what you were going to write?

I’m pretty sure this last one is for me… Thank you Cassie for answering my questions.


June 29, 2016

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