When alpine ski racing in Canada turned 100 Alpine Canada celebrated in the best way possible for alpine skiing fans: by hosting a competition.
True to the times, it was a virtual competition but one that reached a massive Canadian audience during a challenging year for ski racing in Canada – offering a welcome reprieve from COVID land to take a trip down memory lane.
Over the past three months, social and news media feeds have been flooded with the 100 Peak Moments campaign – reaching nearly 14.4 million Canadians, according to Alpine Canada – highlighting the most iconic moments in Canadian ski racing history.
Like Rob Boyd’s home-snow golden moment in the Whistler downhill in 1989, to the Crazy Canucks and their often-told exploits of world domination and death-defying feats in the late 1970s and 80s, to the Speed Queens who consistently rattled off World Cup podiums in the 2000s, to the Canadian ski cross team who won two golds and a silver days apart at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, continuing Canada’s winning ways in ski cross.
And you may not be alone if you’ve never heard of Olaus Jeldness, a skier who hurled down the mountain in Rossland, B.C. to win the first-ever Canadian downhill championship in 1897, using a single pole as both a rudder and a brake.
Yes, ski racing history runs deep in the Great White North.
And then there was that moment in February 1992, when a small-town racer from the Kootenays fulfilled her dream and reached the pinnacle of the sport when she claimed Canada’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in women’s downhill, at another small town … this time in France.
It was a moment which she said fulfilled “a little girl’s dream” and one which resonated with Canadians. CBC celebrated with a one hour special on Wednesday night, where Scott Russell, Brian Stemmle and Nancy Greene-Raine interviewed ski greats and special guests. The top moment was presented by Reece Howden, the world No. 1 ranked ski cross racer at the conclusion of the live stream.
The top alpine ski racing moments started with 100 and through a public voting process was whittled down to the top five which included para-alpine skiers Chris Williamson and Viviane Forest, the Crazy Canucks, the Canadian ski cross team and Lee-Gartner’s 1992 Olympic win.
Lee-Gartner’s body was aching with a laundry list of injuries on that cold and blustery day in 1992, but she mustered the courage and strength to tackle an icy, challenging and unfamiliar slope on the Roc De Fer (Iron Rock) course in Meribel, ousting American great Hilary Lindh by 0.06 seconds, roughly an inch separating the two. It was one of the closest ski races in Olympic history with the top five separated by a mere 0.18 seconds.
“It’s surreal when I look back,” she explained. “I allowed myself to stay inside a little dream-world bubble yet methodically and purposefully planned and executed a process. It really was two sided … on the one side is a little girl with a big dream but on the other was a very structured process to win the Olympics.”
With 72 World Cup starts, six medals and 34 top 10 finishes over a 10-year career, that moment on the Meribel course topped it all.
Lee-Gartner’s competitive career ended two years later, in part due to a tragic accident involving her close friend and competitor Austrian Ulrike Maier, who succumbed to injuries after a crash at a World Cup downhill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, weeks before the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics. Lee-Gartner said in a 2018 editorial, “I was shaken to my core”.
Within months, Lee-Gartner retired from competitive ski racing and soon moved over to a long career in the broadcast booth as a ski analyst and colour commentator for CBC Sports, calling hundreds of World Cup, world championships and Olympic races over 25 years.
Growing up Red
Kerrin Lee was born and raised in the West Kootenays in the small town of Rossland, B.C., home of the legendary Red Mountain Racers. She lived a few doors away from the parents of 1968 giant slalom medalist Nancy Greene. Defying the odds started early for the youngest sibling in the Lee family, as she skyrocketed to the national team as a teenager after being told she didn’t have the goods to reach the World Cup level.
“I really do believe that wearing Nancy Greene’s [medals] and being inspired by everyone that came before me is the true message of my medal,” Lee-Gartner said from her home in Calgary. “Yeah, I raced that race and that was my dream but my medal is more about everybody else’s dream. What can they do now?”
“The older I get and with each year removed from that day I just shake my head a little bit more, ‘what made me so bold and brazen to think I was going to be able to do that’,” she said.
Oma and Opa
After her competitive career was over, Lee-Gartner and husband Max had two daughters – Riana and Stephanie. In addition to her CBC duties, she stayed close to ski racing running a consulting company with Max, hosting ski tour vacations, coaching, mentoring, performing charity work and volunteering. Kerrin and Max recently became grandparents – “Oma and Opa” – when Riana welcomed her first into the world.
The time spent reflecting on ski racing history in Canada was therapeutic for Lee-Gartner, as she poured over the stories of ski racing “moments” that came before and after her time in the limelight.
“Of all the years to celebrate, to look back and reflect and reminisce this has been a good one,” she said. “Going through these incredible moments and remembering where I was and how they impacted me and my career and even when my career was over, was incredible.”
“I was in awe looking through each and every one of these moments.”
KERRIN-LEE GARTNER – Awards & Accolades
1992 Velma Springstead Award (Canada’s outstanding female athlete of the year)
John Semmelink Memorial Award (sportsmanship and leadership)
Order of British Columbia (Canadian Meritorious Service Medal)
Calgary and Alberta’s Female Athlete of the Year
Canadian Amateur Sports Hall of Fame
Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame
Canadian Sports Hall of Fame
Canadian Ski Hall of Fame
Alberta Sports Hall of Fame “Female Athlete of the Century”