NEW YORK - NEW YORK (AP) — Ashleigh McIvor tries to take stock of her competition when she moves into the starting gate, sizing up who will give her the most trouble while screaming down a mountain in what could best be described as NASCAR on skis.
Usually it's another Canadian — or two or three.
The reigning skicross world champion is one of the favorites to win gold in her backyard of Whistler, British Columbia, when the sport makes its Olympic debut in February. To do that, she may find herself trying to beat the rest of her Canadian teammates in a white-knuckle race where she admits that "it's inevitable you're going to crash."
"It's definitely a lot more spectator-friendly than regular Alpine skiing," McIvor said during a recent trip to Manhattan. "I think it's the future of the ski industry, especially ski racing, because it's the pure, raw format of skiing. It's what everybody did growing up."
It's certainly what McIvor did in the Canadian Rockies, where she could step out her door and into some of the best backcountry skiing in the world.
The 26-year-old McIvor switched from Alpine to the hybrid style of racing about a decade ago, when flying down a hill at 60 mph no longer provided enough of a rush for a self-described adrenaline junkie. The sport was in its infancy then, but grew in popularity during the X Games and eventually made the World Cup circuit and the Olympics.
The premise is simple. Participants qualify by racing alone against the clock down a steep, twisting hill, flying over jumps at breakneck speeds. The times are used to seed skiers in heats of four, with two eliminated each round until the final four race for medals.
The Canadian women have been winning plenty of them, too.
McIvor broke the stranglehold of French superstar Ophelie David at the world championships in March, where 20-year-old teammate Kelsey Serwa was the fastest qualifier and finished fifth.
At an Olympic test event in February on Vancouver's Cypress Mountain, McIvor finished second behind 39-year-old teammate and former speed skier Aleisha Cline.
"Someone said recently, at our victory party after Cypress, even people who didn't do well were on fire," McIvor said. "They were so stoked for the team as a whole."
That includes Danielle Poleschuk and Julia Murray, world-class skiers who give the Canadian team the opportunity to run full heats in training. By comparison, the United States has only two women — Langley McNeal and Caitlin Ciccone — who are competitive on the world stage.
Murray is the daughter of former Olympian Dave Murray, a member of the famed Crazy Canucks downhill racers. The group gained prominence — or perhaps notoriety — during the 1970s for their reckless style, inspiring a made-for-TV movie of the same name a few years ago.
McIvor thinks the Crazy Canucks may be one of the reasons that the Canadian team has so quickly embraced a style of racing that is sometimes described as motocross on snow, where the participants liken themselves to fighter pilots.
"With skicross, you need extensive Alpine background, you need that skill base, and then you need to be a little bit crazy," McIvor said, smiling widely. "Maybe that goes back to the Crazy Canucks. Maybe we all have a little of that in us."
Although the event is new to the Olympics, there are some familiar faces that are expected to challenge the Canadian women for dominance on their home turf.
David, a former Olympic Alpine skier, has won the past three X Games skicross gold medals and leads a stacked French team that includes world bronze medalist Meryl Boulangeat. David won six World Cup titles last season and is favored in the season-opener Monday in Innichen, Italy.
The Austrian team is also stacked, led by former world champion Karin Huttary.
What sets the Canadians apart, though, might be their close-knit chemistry. Many of them were raised on the slopes of British Columbia, and their unparalleled depth means they have plenty of company while traveling the World Cup circuit.
Those team dynamics might be the biggest reason the Canadians could be packing the podium in February, even if it means racing teammates elbow-to-elbow to stand on the top.
"For sure, it's kind of interesting to be training for an individual sport as a team," McIvor said. "With Alpine you're actually on your own, but skicross, there's the possibility of your teammates in a heat with you. When there's another teammate, you can work together to ensure that you both advance.
"It's not all independent when you get on the hill."