Even after winning the FIS Junior World Championship in New Zealand this summer, Whistler Mountain Ski Club alumnus Mikayla Martin wasn't expecting to get much FIS World Cup action outside of a start at Ontario's Blue Mountain later this month.
However, after turning heads at a team pre-season training camp in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, the ski-cross racer received some additional opportunities. She's made the most of it recently, with two top-10 finishes in three tries.
In a Christmas Eve interview, Martin said she had just finished wrapping the last of her presents—understandable, especially considering she had just come off the best finish of her young World Cup career, a sixth-place finish in Innichen, Italy on Dec. 22.
"It has been a huge learning experience," she said. "I didn't really know what to expect. Going into the World Cup, I hadn't raced against many of the athletes before, so I didn't really have a gauge of where I would place or what I would do."
In her sixth-place finish, Martin acknowledged that she only even made it out of the quarterfinals by virtue of teammate India Sherret's fall, but she's sought to take what she can from the chances she has.
"There was a lot of luck on my side that day. Unfortunately, one of my teammates crashed and that's how I ended up getting into the small final. But it was a good opportunity for me to make it through the rounds and instead of getting one run of racing, I got three runs of racing," she said. "I was lined up against the best in the world. Fanny (Smith of Switzerland) had been doing really well the last couple races and so in the small final, when I was beside Fanny, I thought to myself that I just have to ski the best I can and focus on my skiing instead of what the other racers are doing."
Through a trio of races, watching the best on the planet, the 21-year-old has taken in a lot of information and isn't planning to rest on her laurels, especially as she's only in her second full year of full-time ski-cross competition.
"I still have a lot to learn," she said with a laugh. "It's really cool being on the same team as (2014 Olympic champion) Marielle (Thompson) because she is one of the best in the world, so to be able to watch her in training and what she's working on, how she holds herself, is really quite cool. I'm learning a lot.
"They are the best in the world, but they aren't superhuman, so I have to believe that I can be up there one day as well."
Martin recalled receiving about a week's notice after the Switzerland training camp that she would indeed be returning for further evaluation and possibly, some additional races. However, she noted that the coaching staff is taking a cautious approach with her and don't want to overload her with too much, too fast.
"I had asked them if there was a chance that I would get more than one World Cup start and they said probably not. They 'don't want to rush me,' so when I did get the call that I would be going back to Europe, it came as a surprise," she said.
The coaches instructed her to book a flight she could easily change for the return trip, just in case they decided to send her home early, giving Martin additional motivation, though she also looked to minimize the pressure on herself.
"I went over there with very low expectations, not sure if I would be sent home, not sure if I would qualify," she said. "I went over there with very clear process goals to get experience such as to work on my technique.
"There are certain things in my skiing that I wanted to take out of this camp. I was able to do that, and I was also able to throw down on race day, which was unexpected, especially in the qualifier (in Arosa, Switzerland, where she took third.)"
With a lot of new experiences packed into one, Martin is pleased with how she acquitted herself overall, even after some early bumps. She added that she feels welcomed into the team and hopes to be part of it going forward.
"I was trying to figure out how the team worked and, in my opinion, I wasn't skiing that well for the first week. There was a bit of doubt in my mind that I would get sent home. At that point, I didn't want to be sent home at all, so at first, it was a bit of a mind game getting used to a new team and where I fit in," she said. "But after I figured that out, the team is incredible, outgoing, inclusive and I'm very lucky to be part of it."
World Cup racing is scheduled to resume later in January at Idre Fjall, Sweden.