At the top of the freestyle course, skier Teal Harle leans on his poles, closes his eyes and visualizes his run from top to bottom.
Readjusting his eyes to the light, he stands up and stays calm before dropping into his run for the judges to see. While he feels slightly nervous, he is not concerned about potential injuries during his ski.
“You’re scared because you don’t want to fall off a rail early or something lame,” he said. “Not scared of landing on my head. Just fear of crashing and not landing.”
It’s ongoing muscle memory for Harle. The 25-year-old skier from Campbell River has been competing since the age of 12, winning multiple medals on national and international soil. He has now qualified for his second Olympics at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.
Skiing has always been a part of his life. Growing up in Campbell River, he has had his feet in ski boots since he was around five years old. With his family having a place on Mt. Washington, he would often spend his time out on the slopes.
“We were always out there skiing, ever since I could remember,” he said. “I started in the Nancy Greene program when I was five years old and ski raced for a few years before transitioning into freestyle.”
The Nancy Green program provides racing opportunities to kids who enroll in the program. He found freestyle skiing through a trial day during the program.
“I didn’t even know it was really a thing until that try freestyle day,” he said. “I was always the kid that was off in the trees finding little jumps and little things to spin off of or do little tricks.”
“I think it was just a natural thing that I liked freestyle skiing.”
Freestyle skiing involves jumps around 70 to 80-foot gaps from takeoff to landing, according to Harle. He says most competitors will be doing around four to five rotations and two to three flips per jump all at once.
“It’s quite a lot of spinning and flipping with big air,” he laughs. “It’s definitely getting pretty crazy.”
Over his career, Harle has won many events including a gold medal at the Canada Winter Games in 2014-2015, X-Games podiums and two World Cup wins.
Throughout his career, he says he’s been lucky to not have any major injuries. He says retaining focus has been the biggest issue for him as he spends most of his time skiing.
“It comes from skiing too much that I don’t want to ski as much,” he admits. “But then also, not skiing enough makes skiing not very fun because you start to lose those skills. It’s kind of a back and forth battle.”
“I’m feeling good about it now and I’m mindful of it.”
Beijing will be Harle’s second Olympics. He was able to finish fifth in 2018, which he says was totally unexpected and an amazing experience.
“That was super awesome, that was the most amazing Olympic experience,” he described. “I went in having no expectations of results or anything. I just wanted to go there, put on a good show, land my run, enjoy the experience and have a good time.”
He says enjoying the experience is the most important part of the experience. While he says trying to win is the ultimate goal, having fun and landing your run is the most important. He says this goal will be in mind for the upcoming Games.
“It’s just trying to land the run you’ve planned for,” he says. “Whether that’s a run that you think you’ll win or a run that won’t.”
He says it is then up to the judges to decide where you stack up.
For those up-and-coming skiers, he says to keep having fun while they continue.
“Even if it is for the end goal of winning the Olympics, it always has to be fun,” he said. “If it’s not fun, you’re not going to enjoy it and you won’t have the same amount of drive as you would if you were having fun all the time.
He says to play around and explore your sport as you grow as an athlete.
Freestyle skiing is scheduled for Feb. 7, with medals for Men’s and Women’s Big Air to be celebrated on Feb. 9.
Comox Valley skier Cassie Sharpe will also be competing in half-pipe this year.