Ski cross champion Kevin Drury is racing at Nakiska Ski Resort west of Calgary on Jan. 17 and 18, 2020. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Drury leads host Canadian ski cross team into chilly World Cup at Nakiska

NAKISKA, Alta. — It’s too cold for penguins, but not for ski cross racer Kevin Drury.

A cold front enveloping Alberta this week cancelled penguin walks at the Calgary Zoo, where tourists can witness the flightless birds waddling out and about.

Zoo staff said temperatures were colder than the penguins’ native Antarctica.

Toronto’s Drury, currently ranked first in men’s World Cup ski cross, says he’s impervious to cold.

So the prospect of icy racing at Nakiska Ski Resort west of Calgary on Friday and Saturday bothers him not at all.

“I run hot and that’s not an exaggeration,” the 31-year-old told The Canadian Press.

“When it’s really cold out, I actually don’t wear socks in my boots. My feet are so hot they get sweaty and if I have a sock, it gets soaking wet and then it freezes. Just the foam of the boot creates kind of a sauna.

“I’m meant to be a winter athlete. Doesn’t work so well in the summer, but good in the winter.”

Drury and Kris Mahler of Canmore, Alta., rank first and second in the world respectively heading into the fifth of eight World Cup races this season.

2014 Olympic champion Marielle Thompson of Whistler, B.C., sits third among women behind leader Sandra Naesland of Sweden and No. 2 Fanny Smith of Switzerland.

In ski cross, an athlete races three competitors down a course of turns and jumps, with the top two advancing to the next round.

Nakiska was closed to the public this week because of the Arctic conditions. The resort is scheduled to re-open Friday when the skiers race individual timed runs in qualifying.

The top 32 in each gender advance to Saturday’s heats, quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.

Predicted windchill for Friday’s qualifying was minus-21 with the mercury rising to the teens Saturday.

FIS, the world governing body of skiing and snowboarding, doesn’t set a minimum temperature for races.

An onsite race jury ultimately decides whether it’s safe for a race to proceed.

Downhill skiers in skintight suits travelling at speeds over 130 kilometres per hour feel the cold more during a race than ski cross racers, who compete in thicker clothes on shorter courses.

But the latter make multiple trips up the mountain as they advance through heats and elimination rounds.

Cooling off on the chair lift up the mountain means expending energy to warm up again to race.

Canadian women’s team racer Courtney Hoffos, who does not run hot like Drury, has a strategy to manage temperature fluctuations.

“It’s a lot of hydration, a lot of snacks,” the 22-year-old said. ”Really having your energy high.

“I feel like when everyone else is warm, I’m never. I’m always cold I feel like. I’ve got my heated socks on and set to six out of nine all day. Got my hot pockets in my hands. I am wearing as much as I possibly can.”

The Canadian team raced in windchill closer to minus-30 in last weekend’s national championship in Red Deer, Alta.

“Kevin and I switched gloves in the start area for a bit,” Hoffos said. ”I basically cooled down his gloves. He warmed mine up for me.”

Drury won races in France, Switzerland and Italy in the first half of the season. Mahler, 24, collected his first career victory and placed second in another race.

“I would have said two years ago would have been a breakout season when I was third overall, but for sure definitely I’m next level of breakout,” Drury said.

Reigning Olympic men’s champion Brady Leman of Calgary ranks eighth with one podium result this winter.

Thompson, the 2019 women’s world champion, has a pair of victories this season. Hoffos of Invermere, B.C., has finished second once and third twice in a strong World Cup debut.

The host men’s team includes Montreal’s Chris Del Bosco, Edmonton’s Carson Cook, Ottawa’s Jared Schmidt, Gavin Powell of Prince George, B.C., Ned Ireland of Lake Country, B.C., Reece Howden of Cultus Lake, B.C., and Zach Belczyk of Banff, Alta.

Edmonton’s Abby McEwen, Calgary’s Antoinette Tansley, 2018 Olympic silver medallist Britt Phelan of Mont-Tremblant, Que., Ottawa’s Hannah Schmidt and India Sherret and Zoe Chore of Cranbrook, B.C., round out the Canadian women’s contingent.

The Canadian ski cross team wears stickers on their equipment in memory of teammate Mikayla Martin, who died in a mountain biking accident Oct. 1 in her hometown of Squamish, B.C.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2020.

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