Alex Cairns was a bit of a late starter in para-Alpine skiing, but he's peaked at the right time.
The 26-year-old Squamish resident and Whistler Adaptive Sports Program alumnus, who started skiing at 16, was named to Canada's Paralympic team in an announcement on Feb. 16.
"I'm very grateful. It's very cool. It's a bit of a surprise. I'm not exactly first pick for the team, so that they actually got us spots was huge," he said.
The season, which started in September, saw Cairns take three separate trips to Europe before taking on the World Cup Finals in speed events in Kimberley earlier this month.
"It's been super intense," Cairns said. "It's been busy and we had a lot of good training in Kimberley this year. It was super helpful and good timing.
"It was not so good for me, but that's OK; it's not what I'm going to be specializing in anyway."
While Cairns is eager to compete, it hasn't been an ideal season for him, as he struggled to achieve the results he had hoped for. However, that can all go out the window when it only takes a couple good runs to snag Paralympic gold.
"Anybody in this position, they always wish they progressed a little bit further before this time came around. There's always going to be that demon on your shoulder saying, 'I wish I was a little bit faster going into this thing,'" he said. "But I ski a lot. I've made a lot of progress. It's good."
Cairns is excited for his first-ever trip to Asia and is preparing himself not only for differences on the mountain, but to soak up the local culture — if he's afforded any time with the busy Paralympic schedule.
"I've never even been to Asia. It's going to be brand new for me and I'm just picking up information from the other teammates who have been over there already for World Cup Finals and things like that. I'm just trying to gather information in Google Earth and get myself sorted, get my bearings straight," he said.
Talking to teammates has been instructive, but so has watching the ongoing Winter Olympic Games, where some skiers are battling with the snow more than they'd like. Cairns plans to take his teammates' advice to bring more equipment than needed.
"They said to bring more skis than we usually bring to races just because it has been so cold and so aggressive that it actually is ripping up the bases of the skiers that are over there right now," he said. "They're setting us up to bring a couple extra than we normally would. And it's the Games. You don't want to be short on gear."
Cairns explained he got into skiing on a bit of a whim, including receiving instruction from the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program, but the intensity ramped up quickly and sent him on his high-level trajectory.
"I didn't want to sign up for a university class without really knowing what I want to do, which was classic fear," he said. "But that one sort of worked out and I started ski racing. I joined the B.C. Team and then once you're on the B.C. Team, with para-sport, your focus is to go further and get to the Games, because there's no other avenue for skiing. There's no big mountain or park or anything like that, so you start racing and you get into it."
Fellow Whistler Mountain Ski Club alumnus Mollie Jepsen, the Crystal Globe winner on the World Cup women's circuit this year, also made the team.