LAKE LOUISE, Alta. — Larisa Yurkiw’s best results in ski racing have come while operating as a team of one. The Canadian continues to run and fund her own program outside of Alpine Canada, even though she walks a financial tightrope.
The 27-year-old from Owen Sound, Ont., claimed her first World Cup podium last season by finishing second in a downhill in Cortina, Italy. A few weeks earlier, Yurkiw finished just off the podium in Lake Louise, Alta., in fourth.
"Each race, each season is showing me what I’m capable of, but also that I can be consistently successful," Yurkiw said Thursday.
She is the country’s top female downhiller and one of just two Canadians racing the women’s World Cup season opener Friday in Lake Louise.
Valerie Grenier of Mont-Tremblant, Que., is 19 and will race just the second World Cup downhill of her career.
The strength of the Canadian women’s ski team shifted in recent years from speed events to the technical races of slalom and giant slalom.
A thin speed program is why Yurkiw turned down an invitation this year to return to the secure umbrella of Alpine Canada.
"I was invited back," she said. "They did a good thing and hired a coach and the development skiers on the team need that. It’s really great to see because those girls deserve that.
"It’s not quite the World Cup program that I need. I’m trying to be one of the best in the world and my goals are huge."
Austria’s Mirjam Puchner was fastest in Thursday’s second and final training run. Lindsey Vonn and Stacey Cook of the U.S., were second and third respectively.
Grenier was 40th, while Yurkiw caught an edge and skied off course after finishing 10th in the first training run. A second downhill is scheduled for Saturday followed by Sunday’s super-G.
Yurkiw became a ski maverick out of necessity when she was left off the Canadian women’s ski team for 2013-14.
She pounded the pavement for sponsorship dollars, found a new coach and trained on her own while achieving a necessary pair of top-10 results to qualify for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Yurkiw was 20th in downhill, but achieved the hard-won goal of wearing the Maple Leaf at her first Olympic Games. Having proved for two seasons she can pay for herself to ski fast, Yurkiw is surprised how much harder it is to come up with the money.
She estimates she’s 30 per cent short of the approximately $200,000 required to race a full World Cup season.
"I have this weekend covered, but beyond that it’s a bit of an unknown," Yurkiw said. "It’s extremely stressful. My sponsors are as generous as they can be, but it’s still this upward climb to try to fund my season."
She fears her decision to operate outside Alpine Canada is interpreted as a prima donna move by potential sponsors.
"The detrimental thing to me is when the optics looked like I turned them down," Yurkiw explained. "That’s not really the reality. There’s no true option for where I’m at in my career.
"That hurts sometimes for certain sponsors’ mentalities, morals and company values to hear I’m snubbing people, but I’m really trying to put in place the environment that’s most conducive to success."
Yurkiw is in her third season with coach Kurt Mayr of Austria. Yurkiw shares team services and technical support with the Swedes, Germans and Norwegians. Sweden’s Kajsa Kling is her roommate on the road.
It’s a juggling act to be her own marketing manager, chief financial officer and high-performance director in addition to skiing fast. Yurkiw doesn’t regret the road she’s chosen.
"I’m all or nothing. Who am I kidding?" Yurkiw said. "Even if I miss a few naps, it’s still an amazing journey. When I go out in the morning and put my skis on and my goggles down, all that stuff falls away."