A sweater on display at the Haliburton Curling Club showcased a collection of ribbons from the annual Skyline Bonspiel reaching back 60 years.

Ski cross dreams run through Eagle Lake

By Darren Lum

As he crossed the finish line to take his first championship title all Reece Ralph could hear was his parents cheering. “Screaming yelling and telling me to go faster” he said.

Ralph an Eagle Lake cottager said winning the U19 Jr. Canadian Ski Cross Championship on April 14 at Sunshine Village in Banff Alta. was “a little bit of icing on the cake.”

It reaffirmed his belief in himself and his dream to compete for his country at the Olympics.

“It’s proving to myself I can compete at this level with these athletes. It was a really big field. We had a couple of Olympians. We had Brady Lehman and Christopher Del Bosco just to name two of them. It was cool being in the gate with them and see how I stack up” he said.

Finishing eighth overall to end the season was proof his hard work yielded results.

“It just meant to me that all the training that I’ve put in the off season is really paying off” he said.

His training regime includes up to six days a week in the gym working out riding the bicycle.

While at the cottage he practises his starts for start gate. He also studies video examining what he is doing as well as how other competitors are skiing certain features and sections of a course to improve and gain an advantage.

Although he made the switch from Fenninger Racing based at Sir Sam’s to Alberta Ski Cross this past year which is the feeder team to the national ski cross team he credits the Eagle Lake ski hill and the racing team based there with giving him the foundation for success.

“Their support has been amazing. Sir Sam’s has been helping me out with just giving me a place to train. Giving me all the opportunities growing up to make this dream a reality. Victoria Fenninger at Fenninger Racing really helped out with that – the whole coaching aspect. And growing up there and giving me this opportunity to kind of grow and try to make it in this crazy sport” he said.

What got him started in ski cross racing was a stranger who challenged him to race at Sir Sam’s.

“Oddly enough one of the racers actually called me out on the ski hill” he said. “Yeah he saw me skiing down a run and said ‘Hey you! Get your parents to sign you up for this race.’ He was one of the other three people competing in the event” he said.

Ralph 19 is finishing his one-year certificate course in snow resort operations at Georgian College in Barrie. It has a co-op component that includes racing and attending mandatory training camps around North America and building terrain parks in Collingwood. He’s logged a lot of air miles he said but said it’s worth it. What he learns with this post-secondary education will enable him to perform a variety of tasks at a ski resort.

His family who are originally from Oakville bought the Eagle Lake cottage in 2008. They had been coming to the area years before and had stayed at a friend’s cottage before purchasing their own.

“We fell in love with the place” he said.

Ralph remembers being at the Eagle Lake ski hill every chance he could in the winter.

“Everyone is just so warm and welcoming. Skiing at Sir Sam’s I’ve met a bunch of my lifelong friends that I’ll probably be friends with until the day I move into the afterlife. It’s just a super welcoming area” he said.

Ski cross is a sport he loves for the people he has met and the adrenaline rush.

“There’s nothing quite like stepping into a start gate with three other competitors and racing each other down [the course]. It’s the sort of need for speed I guess I couldn’t get any other way” he said.

He appreciates the title win and said this is just part of realizing his dream to make the national team and an Olympic berth in 2026.

“I still have a long way to get there but it’s just one step at a time. Getting my first top-10 finishes this year. Getting the invite to the spring talent ID camp” he said.

This past Thursday he started his second year as part of the selection camp where he will receive training and showcase his potential.

“It gave me the opportunity to kind of show what I have to national coaches. In our sport that is the professional level. Like that is our version of the NHL” he said.

Although he was happy to be invited to the ID camp last year he said this year’s win to end the season increased his exposure.

“This win has furthermore put my name higher up on that list” he said.

Ralph said he couldn’t have won or gotten to the level of skiing he has reached without his parents.

“The support they have given me has been unreal with paying my team fees every year paying for the travel paying for new equipment. All this stuff isn’t cheap. We’ve put a substantial amount of money into this sport and without their support and willingness to let me pursue my passion it definitely wouldn’t have happened” he said. “If we didn’t get the cottage I would be on a completely different life path.”

Follow Reece Ralph’s journey on Instagram @reece_ralph.