The smile is the first thing most people notice about Dominique Vallee.
If she’s talking, she’s smiling or laughing.
But when it comes to the halfpipe or the snowboardcross course Vallee is definitely not some giggling princess. Underneath Vallee’s uplifting grin is a fierce competitor who is burning so much energy her passion for competition is almost tangible.
It is certainly easy to understand why snowboarding is not the only sport Vallee has done well in.
When Vallee was a teenager she was a ski racer and represented Montreal in volleyball. She also won a national sailing championship in the Laser Two category. Vallee said she decided to ditch the skis and try snowboarding while on vacation in Whistler.
"I remember my first time here, it was in the springtime when the Westbeach Classic was on back in the day, and it was such a beautiful day," said Vallee.
"And I was watching the pipe contest and I was thinking ‘wow’, and I thought all right – this is what I want to do."
Since that day in the sun Vallee has had two top-five world championship finishes and is now one of only two Canadians on the national team that competes in two disciplines.
"This will be my third world championships and world championships are such an amazing experience because you’ve got all the ceremonies and all the countries competing," she said.
"Two years ago it was in Austria and it was really exciting to see all the (Whistler) event organizers there trying to plan out this one.
"It’s pretty exciting and really big because it’s a pre-Olympic year. And this year they’re doing it differently, the winner of the world championships is getting a personal spot for the Olympics, which is not just a quota spot for your country. It’s a personal spot with your name on it to go to the Olympics."
The fact that Vallee and Maëlle Ricker are the two Canadian team athletes doing both snowboardcross and halfpipe should be a big advantage come Olympic selection, because each country gets only 16 Olympic spots for snowboarders.
"So lets say there’s four spots for slalom, four spots for boardercross, four spots for pipe it would be even, but Jasey-Jay (Anderson), Maëlle and myself… we’re doing two events (each) but we’re only taking one spot, so the team is really encouraging us right now," said Vallee.
But before she can start counting down to Torino, Vallee conceded she had to "stop over analyzing things" and leave more to her instincts.
"I don’t think there’s more pressure here because if you win you don’t have any pressure for the rest of the year – but I put pressure on myself. I’m my hardest critic and I think that’s my biggest problem.
"But I know what I’m going to do and I know what I have to do."
To prepare for the world championships Vallee said she was going home for some "home cooking," and in the meantime she’ll be subscribing to the same advice Thomas Grandi did before he made Canadian alpine skiing history last month with back-to-back wins in World Cup giant slalom races.
"For Christmas my mom sent me an article about him (Thomas Grandi) where he talks about a book that really helped him. The article talked about Terry Orlick (a professor at the University of Ottawa) who’s a sport’s psychologist and he’s helped out so many athletes and he’s written a book, called The Pursuit of Excellence, so mom sent me that for Christmas too."