Ski racing is an individual sport. Racer against the clock. Fastest to the finish wins.
But in Laurence St-Germain’s world, competitive teammates are the difference-makers in her budding career on the World Cup circuit.
The 26-year-old Canadian, now the world’s sixth-ranked slalom skier, is aware of her good fortune having been surrounded by a consistently strong group in her home province of Quebec, at the University of Vermont and now on the Canadian World Cup team.
One suitcase, two families
As previously reported, the Canadian team was looking for a strong start and got just that with six top-30 finishes at the opening World Cup slalom races in Levi, Finland, led by St-Germain’s sixth- and eighth-place finishes.
St-Germain is quick to point out that a number of her teammates are right with her – including Erin Mielzynski who finished 13th and 15th – with a wave of younger racers knocking on the door behind them, including Roni Remme, Ali Nullmeyer and Amelia Smart.
The competition in training is fierce, says St-Germain, but productive and cooperative.
“It may be even more important than having good coaches or training,” she said. “Having someone push you and help you and understand how you’re experiencing [training] and to get the feedback between us … is very helpful.”
With depth and numbers, St-Germain stated that there was an air of confidence with the Canadian squad heading into the season. Along with the leadership of former World Cup winner Erin Mielzynski, who is attempting to reclaim her position among the world’s best, the team should prove to be a handful for their European and American competitors.
“We mostly trained just with our group so we didn’t really have any idea where we were at compared to the big ski nations,” she said. “In training, we alternate with the fastest times, Erin and Ally were mostly leading. Ally had some really good days leading into Levi so I think she’s going to be up there really soon.”
Along with coach Luca Gazzi and staff, the tightknit group returned home to Canada after the Levi races and are set to fly back to Europe in mid-December to prepare for the next race in Semmering, Austria, on Dec. 29.
Keys to success: Chocolate, family, idols
Raised in a ski family on the foothills of Mont Ste Anne, Quebec, in the small community of St. Ferréol-les-Neiges – with father Jean-Francois, a former moguls competitor and mother Louise Legarde, an avid skier – Laurence and brother William joined the local ski club mostly for social reasons. There was more of an emphasis on chocolate than gold, silver or bronze.
“We had these little races called M&M Cups and I wasn’t the most competitive child; apparently I was singing Christmas songs the whole way down, but the pack of M&M’s were waiting at the bottom,” she said in a recent phone interview.
St-Germain would eventually meet local ski racing hero Melanie Turgeon, a three-time Olympian and gold medallist from the world championships in 2003 (women’s downhill), and a competitive spark was formed. “All my helmets were signed by Melanie. When she would come to the club everyone would get their helmets signed like it was a badge of honour.”
Now with 21 finishes in the World Cup points (top 30) early in her career, the slalom ace is keeping her focus on progression and development, step by step.
Learning from the past when she altered her goals after a strong start to a season only to be let down with unfulfilled realities, St-Germain is set on staying the course and keeping her focus on finishing consistently in the top 10 throughout the 2020-21 season. Even with two recent top 10s in Levi and the podium within sight, she will not change the target.
NCAA part of the pathway to the World Cup
After being cut from the national development team at the end of the 2014 season, St-Germain opted to join the University of Vermont, with the intention to qualify for the World Cup team while simultaneously pursuing a computer science degree.
With a well-structured collaborative program between the strong NCAA ski program at UVM along with support from the Quebec ski team — in particular women’s head coach Francis Royal — St-Germain was able to carve out a pathway to reach her goal. And once again teammates were a difference-maker.
“I had Elli Terwiel (former Canadian team World Cup regular) as a roommate and also two Norwegians who are both on the World Cup tour on our team, so we were really good. My goal was to make my way back to the [Canadian] team.”
When she earned two podium finishes at the season-ending NorAm slalom events at Burke Mountain, Vermont, in March 2015, she lowered her national rank enough to qualify for the national B team and rejoin Alpine Canada.
With a computer science diploma in her back pocket, St-Germain felt the path to achieving her goal of becoming a World Cup regular was clear. She maintains her commitment to studies, enrolling in a biomedical science program through the Polytechnique Montreal in Quebec City, even if it adds another layer to her time-management process. But alongside Nullmeyer and Amelia, her “study buddies,” she’s been able to keep up with her academic pursuits.
“My dream job would be to work in robotics or making prosthetics for the disabled someday,” she said when asked about any post-sport goals.
COVID life on a road: not as bad as you’d think
It’s all been reasonably normal, as far as normal goes in 2020, for St-Germain and teammates.
“It’s been disappointing to not partake in the beautiful European cities,” she said, citing the coaches are opting for the team to stay in little towns “in the middle of nowhere” to stay safe. “When you’re in Europe you want to go discover things and we can’t, so that’s a bummer. But Levi was really well organized, and we all felt really safe.”
Other than wearing masks and limiting the start hut to two racers at a time, the rest was business as usual at the opening slalom races in northern Finland. “Normally you’d have screaming people in the finish, and it was a bit awkward with just a camera following you,” St-Germain said, noting she could hear Italian racer Federica Brinone giving her a cheer. “It was actually pretty cool to hear the other racers as usually it’s very loud with a big crowd.”
On those days when things aren’t going quite right, St-Germain turns to her brother William, a mechanical engineer in Quebec City, for an ear to help her manage the situation. “I talk to him a lot about what’s going on or if there’s a stress or I need help with something.”
The women’s team will most likely be in Italy over the holidays. She suspects the brightly lit and festive Christmas Markets (Christkindlmarkt) will likely be closed, but St-Germain said Christmas with her “second family” is serious business.
“We’ll be making Christmas cookies and have a big dinner and Secret Santa between the girls. We really try to make it as Christmasy as possible.”
Until then, the Canadian slalom team will bash gates, push each other and continue to raise the bar. How high can it go?
Laurence St-Germain: by the numbers
6th – World rank, slalom
21 – Top 30 World Cup finishes
8 – Top 10 World Cup finishes
27th – place finish in first World Cup start (Aspen, 2015)
6th – place finish at first world alpine championship start (Are, Sweden 2019)
2nd – place finish at NCAA Finals for University of Vermont, as a sophomore
12 – NorAm podium finishes
15th – finish at 2018 PyeongChang Olympic slalom
2020 Alpine Canada Female Athlete of the Year
Home club – Club de ski Mt-Sainte-Anne