The first half of the 2016-17 FIS World Cup ski-cross season has been a lesson in globetrotting.
Whistler ski-cross racer Marielle Thompson has weathered the barrage of races impressively thus far, winning three times in six World Cup outings this season while taking second in another. Those races took place at four different venues in four different countries in a two-week span.
The 24-year-old is heating up at the right time, as the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea sit just over a year away. Though Thompson is the defending Olympic champion and a two-time FIS Crystal Globe winner to boot, with talented challengers like Olympic runner-up Kelsey Serwa and an emerging Georgia Simmerling, she's not taking anything for granted and knows she must be at her best.
"Everyone on the circuit is doing really well. We just got all the criteria we're supposed to meet, all the paperwork, so we're seeing what we have to do to make the Olympic team, so that's just one more thing. But when it comes down to it, I just need to be skiing well and when I'm doing that, the results seem to come," she said. "It's pretty tight having such a strong team."
The races to this point in the season made up the Cross Alps Tour, which found Thompson winning the overall title in the first year that particular configuration was held. It was an encouraging sign for Thompson, who's usually a strong starter, and it's something she hopes to keep up in the second portion of the season.
"I've been skiing really well and I've managed to keep all my fitness and it worked out throughout all those tight races, so that was good. It was a lot of races — six in two weeks, so a lot of it was making sure I wasn't fatigued," she said. "It was a lot of volume in such a short period of time, so keeping energy levels up was key for that."
Thompson performed admirably on the compressed timeline, but also credited her trainers with having a schedule you could set a watch to helping to keep her in prime condition.
"I had everything to a schedule in terms of recovery and strength workouts. We had everything organized around our travel days, because we were moving from place to place so rapidly. When it came down to getting to the new venue and having your first runs on the track, you really have to make the most out of every run because we were racing the next day or the day after that, so you really have to learn the courses quickly compared to past years," she said.
Thankfully, many of the courses didn't change all that much from previous seasons, though there were a couple screwballs on the schedule with Val Thorens, France, especially providing a new taste. The race in Arosa, Switzerland was an enjoyable experience as well, she said, since, as a shorter sprint race, the builders have a little more flexibility to make changes. The atmosphere was different, too, since it was a night race.
"They changed it up from last year. Last year, it was pretty much a straightaway. This year, they added a negative turn to it so it was a little more challenging," she said. "The night race in Arosa was super fun, just because we haven't had that experience in a long time, racing under the lights.
"To have such a short event and have lots of Swiss fans, that was really fun... It's a cool experience because everybody's done working and they can come out and watch the race. The whole town came out."
Thompson also enjoyed her win at Montafon, Austria, a venue where she emerged as a victor last season as well, as the course is a fun one to ski and she seems to compete her best there.
Sitting just short of the halfway point of the season, Thompson isn't making any major changes to a system that's worked beautifully to this point in the season.
"For me, it's going to keep going from race to race and learn each course well and really keep my skiing up to the quality it's been at," she said. "For me, it's nice to chase my male teammates down the course because it's a challenge to try to keep up to them, so that's a big help in training so I can have a benchmark of someone to track."
She currently has 475 points in the Crystal Globe chase, with Germany's Heidi Zacher well back with 324 points. The season resumes Jan. 15 in Watles, Italy.