With less than a month to go in the lead-up to the FIS ski-cross season, Marielle Thompson is eager to get back at it.
The 23-year-old Thompson, the 2014 Olympic ski-cross champion and two-time FIS Crystal Globe winner, is looking for some redemption going into 2015-16.
A storybook season where she dominated the field was abruptly halted at the World Ski Championships in Kreischberg, Austria after a breath-taking crash. Thompson suffered a meniscus injury and is set for her first FIS competition on Dec. 5 in Montafon, Austria. Thompson explained she has had three separate camps since making her return, and has felt improved each time out.
"I feel really good. I've had three solid on-snow camps. It started out with my first time back on my skis up on the Horstman Glacier back at home. Then I had a three-week ski camp in Australia at Mount Hotham and then I just got back from Switzerland," she said. "(In Switzerland), I got back on the ski-cross track there and got back up to speed. I'm feeling quite strong.
"I just kept feeling better and better each time I was on my skis and I definitely feel I made some gains."
Thompson's return to snow, shortly before the Horstman's closure in July, was solid, she said. Getting the chance to get back at it in her hometown was a bonus, as she was familiar and comfortable with the surroundings.
"I wasn't nervous or anything, which I thought was a good sign. I felt like I was definitely ready for it, especially being at home on the home hill was really nice and you can go home to your own bed. It makes for a really good return to skiing and a nice transition from gym training," she said.
Even with the positive and optimistic declarations, though, Thompson was hesitant to forecast how the season might play out, given how many variables are at play in the ski-cross context.
"After this one ski camp at full speed, I'm kind of playing it by ear," she said. "I'm not putting big expectations on myself. It's hard to tell when you've been out of the game for a little bit, so I'm just going race to race to see how I'm feeling and hope that my skiing is going well. If that's going well, I think I'll start doing well in the races.
"It's hard to make any big goals when I haven't been out there for awhile."
And while Thompson explained she is feeling strong and nearly back to where she was at the time of the injury, she's still not 100-per-cent there. She anticipates reaching that point in due time.
"A lot of (the recovery) was just getting my leg back up to strength after having six weeks off of it weight-bearing with my crutches. I lost a lot of muscle mass in my left leg, so a lot of it was getting that back and getting back up to full strength. I feel like I'm pretty close but maybe not quite (there). It just takes time and I have to be patient," she said.
In addition to the physical pain associated with any injury, there can also be the mental challenges one must endure in the recovery process. Thompson said she came to terms with the situation quite quickly, but acknowledged there were some days that were tougher than others.
"When I fully knew that I was out for the full season, I came to terms with that quite quickly. There was nothing I could do, so I just had to deal with that and get back up to full strength, let myself heal and take that time off," she said. "It was pretty tough watching the races, though, but I think it was good for me to still support my teammates. I was getting up in the middle of the night and watching them and then going back to sleep.
"It definitely tested my patience. There were a few times where I got frustrated but I'm usually pretty good at willing myself to get past it and moving on."
Though the 2014-15 season was a fairy tale interrupted, Thompson will use the strong start as a base to, hopefully, pick up where she left off.
"Knowing that I can ski at that elite level, coming from the great start I had last year, I feel I can get back there, if not better," she said. "It definitely pushes me to do my best, for sure, but like I said, I can't put any expectations on myself. It all comes down to racing and I'm definitely fired up to get back to the World Cup."