Slowing Down To Get Faster
A 21-year-old from Mont Tremblant, Canada, has waved goodbye to the approach that many young World Cup skiers adopt: work your body like there is no tomorrow, get experience, and catch every opportunity on the fly. Valerie “Val” Grenier is instead embracing the quantity-over-quality lifestyle; in doing so, she’ll decline participation in World Cup slalom races this winter. Grenier will keep alpine-combined – the event in which she scored her best result finishing 11th at the St. Moritz World Ski Championships in 2017 – along with giant slalom, super-G, and downhill. “It was just a really busy season last year, and I don’t think I want to do it again this year,” said Grenier.
Suffering from shin pain, her body is now asking her to limit her number of days on skis. Grenier underwent compartment syndrome surgery in April of 2016, but the pain continues to hunt her. She is learning how to cope with it, and this summer she decided to skip her team’s Argentinian camp to spend more time in Calgary on rehabilitation. “Now I am just being smart with volume and just doing less runs sometimes and more days off,” says Grenier.
With every physical issue comes a need for prioritization, accepting the problem, and working around it. Grenier is now mapping out her must-dos while taking a step back on the rest. With the support of the Canadian team, she is respecting her body while also preparing herself for future success. Last season, she did not start in the downhill race at Jeongseon, South Korea, because of her shin pain, but she still tested out the Olympic track during the training runs and super-G.
“Halfway through last season I started having pain again, and in South Korea during the training run it was hurting a lot so my coach decided that I shouldn’t start the downhill,” reflects Grenier. “So I took the day off and decided to do the super-G the day after because I really wanted to do it so that I could know what to expect next year.” Her super-G race turned out to be a good one, sending her off with positive feelings for the big event in February. “It is a really fun hill, good terrain, and I like it.”
Before developing into the snow sports athlete of today, Grenier put down some solid turns on water while competing at a high level in water skiing until the age of 15. She used to compete in all three events – slalom, tricks, and jump. To this day, she still skis slalom recreationally.
So when and why did she veer toward snow skiing?
“When I was 14-15, before I decided to go for alpine skiing, I kept thinking about it and I knew at some point I was going to have to choose and that it was going to be a hard decision,” says Grenier. “In my head it made more sense to choose the one with the Olympics because there is not water skiing in the Olympics. It just seemed there was more of a future in alpine skiing. I loved both of them equally, so it was hard to quit waterskiing.” Grenier’s consideration of the Olympic factor in her teens has led her mere steps from her very first Olympic Winter Games.
The realization that the Olympics weren’t out of reach found its way into her mind four years ago, right before the Sochi Games, when she was a newbie in the national development team.
“I was seeing the older girls hashtagging #roadtotheolympics. I knew I wasn’t going to go to those ones, but it made me realize I was probably heading that way. And then every year went better and better,” she says. That’s where Grenier started her four-year journey to the Olympics.
Some of the athletes who inspired Grenier four years ago are still ruling the World Cup. Marie-Michelle Gagnon, in particular, has become a close friend and mentor. “She knows the venues, she shows me around and gives me tips. I like having her around,” says Grenier.
Grenier skis a very direct line, her tips always pointing downhill into the next gate. The danger of this is a high risk of skiing out of the course with a small margin for error.
“I am the type of person that goes all the way, all the time,” she notes.
This is what happened on Oct. 29 at the Soelden opener for Grenier. “I was going down pretty well for me down the pitch. But coming onto the flat, there were three gates tighter and quicker, so you had to be ready for that. But I didn’t prepare enough for it. I didn’t give enough shape there, and then I missed a gate. I was very disappointed but also encouraged by the way I was skiing before going out. Now I am really looking forward to redeeming myself.”
Skiing out in a race isn’t the worst fate of all, and Grenier remains optimistic that she has more career-best days ahead. “Stay as positive as you can, pick yourself back up and keep working because it’s gonna happen,” she says.