Whistler Mountain Ski Club alumnus Mollie Jepsen grew up competing — and competing well — against able-bodied racers.
But this past season, the 18-year-old took on the IPC Para-Alpine World Cup circuit and excelled there as well, snagging the Crystal Globe for the overall title after clinching her first win on the circuit in the super-G on Feb. 11.
Jepsen, who was born missing fingers on her left hand, built on her results throughout the season. She started with three DNFs in four races at Kuhtai, Austria to start the season in December, posted a pair of solid results in Veysonnaz, Switzerland last month and made her move this past weekend in Kimberley, scoring second-place finishes in the other super-G and in a downhill race to bolster her stats.
Getting her first-career win on the World Cup loop was a special moment for Jepsen.
"It was the last race of the series so I was pushing super hard. I knew I could do it. I just had made some mistakes in my previous runs," she said. "I really went for it trying to be super aggressive. Once I crossed the finish line, I knew that I put together a run that was hopefully going to pull me through."
To excel in her home province was also special, as she was surrounded by a number of friendly faces and well-wishers while racing on a familiar hill.
"It was awesome to be surrounded by so many hard-working volunteers I've known my entire career," she said. "I was so happy to be able to put two runs together in front of all those people who worked so hard to pull these races off."
Apart from her challengers on the hill, Jepsen has had plenty to contend with already in her young career. She's had two ACL reconstructions and most recently, missed the bulk of last season after breaking her ankle. Jepsen was in the gym nearly every day in the spring and summer ensuring she'd come back with as much gusto as possible.
"Coming off of those injuries, I really needed to focus on getting strong in the gym and go back to fundamentals on snow," she said. "I worked really hard on my freeskiing, took a lot of time to get things working properly and now I'm starting to build up more confidence in the gates. It just happened to come along just in time for the last World Cup of the season."
Jepsen said adapting to the Para-Alpine World Cup tour has come with challenges of its own, especially after growing up and still currently racing in events against able-bodied racers.
The biggest change for Jepsen was in how the IPC seeks to level the playing field by assigning a classification to each athlete for their disability. Athletes compete based on their functional ability and their scores are then equalized through a factor system, enabling athletes with different disabilities to compete against each other.
She acknowledged the difficulty in getting factoring just right, noting it's mostly "quite accurate." At times, though, Jepsen felt she had a little too much of a penalty to overcome, resulting in some lower rankings even when skiing well. However, she dug deep and found ways to tighten up her skiing and get her desired times.
"Somebody, say, with cerebral palsy will have a certain amount of time taken off of their run. That time is significantly greater than the amount of time taken off of my run. I get... almost nothing," she said. "It makes it extremely difficult for somebody in my category to be successful. For a long time, it was quite hard to adjust to that.
"I needed to work extra hard to be up there."
With the Alpine Paralympic team set to be revealed later this week, Jepsen has her hopes up for encouraging news. She's currently training daily in the event she receives the call.