Kristi Richards may be taking a much-needed break from competitive mogul skiing this year, but she still found herself on her computer watching her teammates compete at Ruka, Finland.
"It was pretty weird to be sitting there watching it after being on the circuit for the past 10 years," she said. "But it was interesting to note where the other girls are. I shouldn't be thinking about it, but I'm competitive by nature and I want to keep up and know what everyone is doing. I want to come back and be at that level."
Richards announced at the start of December that she would not be joining the national team on the World Cup circuit this winter, similar to Olympic champion Alex Bilodeau who announced the same thing the previous week.
The goal is to take a year off, build her skills and fitness, and come back next season — an Olympic qualifying and FIS World Championship year — at the height of her game.
"It's an exciting opportunity I think, and you see a lot more athletes at the Olympic level doing it," she said. "I just find that when you're on tour you're in and you're out, week after week. It's so hard to build new technical skills and your body just breaks down. In our sport there's so much impact and it takes such a toll on your body. I've been on the World Cup for 10 years, and if I want the chance to gold medal in Sochi this is the only way I can do it mentally and physically."
It wasn't an easy decision to make, but she has the support of her coaches and trainers, and other mentors in the industry.
"(Canadian Freestyle Ski Team air coach) Darcy (Downs) and I sat down and made a plan and a schedule that gives me an opportunity to work on the jumps that I really want to work on," said Richards. "I've also spoken to (retired mogul skier) Jenn Heil quite a bit, and she's taken a year off twice before each Olympics and it worked well for her with a gold medal (in 2006) and a silver at Cypress (in 2010).
"But it's pretty scary to step back — I've never been out of the sport for a year, not even for an injury, so it will definitely be interesting."
Richards will split her time between Pemberton and freeskiing at Whistler, and her home mountain of Apex where she'll work on her jumps with the help of an air bag. She'll also spend more time with trainers, healing past injuries and building her fitness levels.
"That's just another piece of the puzzle," she said. "Taking a year off allows more room and time for things that get neglected, so I'm going back to basics on the physical stuff and really focusing on my alignment, proper muscle firing — all the stuff that gets broken down during the season."