The Canadian Ski Cross Team has not competed since March, but the team spent the last nine months boosting their fitness in the gym and sharpening their skills on the snow in preparation for the 2010-2011 World Cup season.
Canada was the top nation in ski cross last year, and with almost the entire team returning the Canadians promised to be contenders again this year.
The racing finally got underway last weekend at Innichen/San Candido, Italy with back-to-back World Cup races.
On the first day of racing, Kelsey Serwa led the women's team with a silver medal, behind Ana Holmlund of Sweden and ahead of Niko Kucerova of Czech Republic and Heidi Zacher of Germany in the final heat.
"I am in a good headspace this year," said Serwa, 21, celebrating her sixth World Cup medal. "Last year was so much about qualifying for the Olympics and everything was about results. This year I am not too worried about the results. I am just focusing on my skiing. And today I was just consistent with my runs, focusing on the process."
Last year all of the Canadian skiers qualified for the Olympics, but because the ski cross team and similarly successful Canadian Freestyle Ski Team had a limited number of quota spots on the Canadian team, the Canadian athletes were constantly battling against one another to get into the Games.
"I qualified eighth yesterday so I didn't get lane choice at all today," said Serwa. "So my focus was always to get over the first roller and on the snow before everyone else. I ended up in second through each heat and never had too much pressure from anybody behind me, so I didn't have to make any risky moves."
Whistler's Ashleigh McIvor missed the finals, and placed seventh overall. Julia Murray was 11th. Marielle Thompson, another Whistler girl, placed 21st in her World Cup debut with the national team.
On the men's side, Nick Zoricic was the only Canadian to make the finals, finishing fourth.
"It was a dogfight to get there, tight racing," he said. "I am thrilled. It's a great start for me. Last year was tough because I was trying to learn so much. I was second guessing myself a lot, never really sure of myself. It takes a while. I raced alpine for years and there is no question that it's different. There is a learning curve."
Whistler's Davey Barr placed seventh and Chris DelBosco 11th. Brian Bennett, another Whistler skier, was 29th, while David Duncan and Stan Rey didn't qualify.
On day two, it was Ashleigh McIvor's turn to shine. The Olympic gold medallist had a great day in the heats and managed to move from third to second in the finals. She was one pass away from winning, and just ran out of course.
Fanny Smith of Switzerland took the win, and McIvor was followed by Heidi Zacher of Germany and Anna Holmlund of Sweden.
"I know Fanny is a really good skier, she's super dialed in with her technical ability," said McIvor. "So I just stayed right on her the whole way down and waited for an opportunity to get by Anna.
"I pulled out to pass (Fanny) off the last jump and didn't quite catch her."
McIvor was happy with her result.
"Yesterday I was pretty frustrated with myself," she said. "I had strong starts, I just kept blowing it at the same corner."
She also liked the post-Olympics atmosphere on the World Cup tour.
"This course was so much fun," she said. "There was nice weather. There is a really positive atmosphere and positive energy flowing. It was a really intense race. There was some good solid passes here and there. That's the way ski cross should be, it's a spectator sport. There should be lots of passing and some jostling here and there."
Marielle Thompson, in her second World Cup race, managed to make the semi-finals and finished her day in a solid eighth. Kelsey Serwa was 11th, Danielle Poleschuk 12th and Julia Murray 14th - five Canadian skiers in the top 15.
Chris DelBosco improved on his first day, and came close to making the finals. He took his frustration out by winning the small final to place fifth. Nick Zoricic earned another top-10 result, finishing eighth. Dave Duncan was 12th, Davey Barr 19th and Whistler's Stan Rey - the other rookie on the team, alone with Marielle Thompson - earned his first World Cup points in 27th.
The ski cross tour took a break after just one event, and will return with races at St. Johann, Italy on Jan. 7.