With the 2010 Olympic venue at Cypress Mountain serving as the backdrop, Ski Cross Canada announced its team for the upcoming season on Tuesday.
The third season for Canada Ski Cross is a big one, what with the sport's debut in the 2010 Winter Games less than half a year away as well as the targets painted on the backs of Canadian athletes that collectively dominated last season.
As expected the team is very similar to last year, with the exception of Annik Demers-Wild, who retired this summer. That means a healthy showing of Sea to Sky athletes, including Squamish's Aleisha Cline, Whistler's Ashleigh McIvor and Julia Murray. Other female racers include Kelsey Serwa and Danielle Poleschuk.
On the men's side the team includes Whistler's Davey Barr and Brian Bennett, as well as Stanley Hayer, Chris DelBosco, Cam Culbert, Dave Duncan, Brady Leman and Nick Zorcic.
Pique caught up with Julia Murray by phone at the Cypress launch to discuss summer training and the upcoming season.
Murray paid her dues the last two seasons as she crawled steadily up the World Cup rankings to the point where she was finishing in the top eight on a regular basis and even placing in the top four at events. She reached the podium for the first time in Switzerland last season, finishing third in a World Cup event, and followed up with a second place finish at the national championships.
Heading into this season her goal is to make the finals in every event.
"Every race it's hard not to try to make my goal the finals, otherwise what am I there for?" she said. "I just want to ski the best I can every race and hopefully that can put me on top of the podium a couple of times before the Olympics."
Her toughest competition could arguably come from her teammates, with four different Canadian women reaching the podium last season including Murray.
Ashleigh McIvor won a gold medal at the world championships, two World Cup silver medals and a bronze medal, and didn't finish outside the top-10 except for one event where she skied off course.
Aleisha Cline won the World Cup test event at Cypress last season and finished in the top eighth four times.
Kelsey Serwa, new to the team last season, finished with a bronze medal in her first race last year and rounded out her season with a silver medal at the finals. She also finished in the top-10 seven times while finishing fourth once and fifth - winning her small final race - four times.
Despite the competitiveness of the team, Murray says everybody gets along well and there's a real team atmosphere in training and on the road.
The team just returned from a three-week camp in New Zealand, after a series of on-snow and dryland training camps stretching back to the end of the 2008-2009 season.
"We've definitely been putting in a lot of time in the gym, we've probably been in there five days a week since the start of the summer, and we're doing a lot of aerobic activity - mountain biking lots, dirt biking a bit," she said. "We have three weeks here and a lot more training in the gym, then we head to Farnham Glacier to get back on snow. We'll be staying at Panorama and flying in by helicopter each day. Then it's dryland testing in Calgary for a week, then back to Farnham for a week. In November we have another camp at Powder King, and then our season starts on Dec. 16.
"This will be my first Christmas away from home, as we have two races before Christmas and then another World Cup on Jan. 5."
Murray says the intensity level has stepped up a notch and the team is getting excited about the debut of the sport in the Olympics. However, she says they are also trying to put it into perspective.
"We try to take every race as it comes and do our best, we all want to win every race," she said. "The Olympics are a bigger deal of course, but we don't want to put too much pressure on ourselves for that and are treating it like we would any other race."
Murray is also celebrating the addition of new sponsorship. Westminister Savings Credit Union has stepped up this year to sponsor Murray, while ColdFX is helping out the team.
"It's great to get a few more patches on our jackets, and Own The Podium has been a great help for sure," she said, adding that she and the team are still looking for sponsors.
"It's a new sport for a lot of people and a new team, so we're a bit behind some other sports when it comes to sponsors," she said. "The Olympics will do a lot to change that."