On the eve of the ski cross World Cup opener at Nakiska, the national team unveiled their memorial tribute to teammate Nik Zoricic, who died at the end of last season after a crash into safety fencing in Switzerland.
The tribute is a blue jean-inspired race suit that was produced by Descente and dedicated to Zoricic's memory, or more accurately, to his sense of humour: Zoricic famously wore blue jeans at one of his first World Cup races because he didn't have any race pants and the jeans were the most aerodynamic clothes he owned at the time.
"This is the most excited I've been to put on a Canadian ski cross uniform," said Whistler's Dave Duncan. "The jean style is in memory of one of Nik's first World Cups... it looks like a regular pair of jeans with Canada emblazoned on it. It's a way of keeping Nik with us."
The design was a team decision, after Zoricic's teammates met at the end of last season and discussed how they would pay tribute to the 29 year old. They made the request to Descente, and were gratified with the company's response.
"If it wasn't denim this year we might not have raced — we felt that strongly that we wanted it." said Duncan. "We are really glad that Descente and everyone else involved was able to make it happen. We are incredibly happy and we can't wait to sport our new uniforms (this weekend)."
Whistler's Marielle Thompson, who won the overall Crystal Globe last season, is pumped on the pants.
"Descente has done a really good job making them look good," said Thompson. "Our cool factor is definitely going to up with these suits. It's awesome that we can show our respect to Nik on the hill and while we're skiing."
The uniform pants resemble jeans, while the top features slanted red and white stripes in Canada's colours. The design itself is called "The Sarajevo" which is where Zoricic was born — a coincidence, as it's the same pattern the team wore last season, though that version had red and yellow stripes.
Zoricic's death has sparked a series of investigations that will like change course designs and finish corales. Both the International Ski Federation (FIS) and Swiss authorities are continuing to investigate on their, but Alpine Canada Alpin, the governing body for ski racing, hosted their own safety summit and independent investigation, and have made recommendations how to improve the safety of ski cross courses.
Over the last few years more than half of the athletes with the national ski cross team have been sidelined with injuries, and a few athletes — including Whistler's Julia Murray and Olympic champion Ashleigh McIvor — have cited injuries in their recent decisions to retire.
The actual racing got underway on Dec. 1 with ski cross nationals, which will be followed by the World Cup opener this Saturday.
At nationals — a warm-up race for the team — the Canadian women were represented by four racers. Marielle Thompson and Kelsey Serwa placed sixth and seventh respectively, while Danielle Sundquist (formerly Poleschuk) was 11th and Whistler's Sarah Lepine 18th.
The top four were Marte Hoeie Gjefsen of Norway, Fanny Smith of Switzerland, Katya Crema of Australia and Ophelie David of France.
On the men's side, Mathieu Leduc snuck into the top four for Canada, behind Alex Fiva of Switzerland, Armin Niederer of Switzerland and Scott Kneller of Australia.
Brady Leman placed fifth for Canada, while Louis-Pierre Helie — a member of the alpine team who made the switch to ski cross for this season — was a solid ninth. Tristan Tafel was 12th, Ian Deans 16th Trent McCarthy 24th, David Duncan 25th and Robert Dunn 29th to round out the top 30. A dozen other Canadians also raced.
This weekend the men and women will race two World Cup events at Nakiska on Dec. 7 and 8. Afterwards they head to Telluride, Colorado the following weekend, then fly to Europe for two more races before the holidays.