'People are always surprised': Downhill mogul ski star takes pride in her Prairie roots

Maia Schwinghammer is one of the world's best downhill moguls skiers, but the Saskatchewan woman didn't get her start on a mountain.

Her need for speed was ignited at age four, skiing with a tow rope behind her uncle's snowmobile near Christopher Lake, a village about 170 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

"We'd just rip around. It was pretty fun," Schwinghammer, 18, said Thursday following a weight workout with physiotherapist Bruce Craven.

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Schwinghammer, who graduated from Saskatoon's Holy Cross High School in 2019, was back in the city for the holiday season.

Dave Holland
Dave Holland

In December, she competed in Beijing. That gave her a glimpse of the course that will be used for the 2022 Winter Olympics there.

In her World Cup debut last January, she finished 11th, giving her a good chance of making the team for the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Schwinghammer is now based in Whistler, B.C. She said it's been great to spend Christmas and New Year's Day at home, but she hits the road again Saturday for more competitions. Stops include Quebec, Calgary, Utah, Japan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Sweden.

"I've never been to any of those places, and I'm very excited," she said.

When she was younger, she would take annual family trips to Whistler or other ski hills. Her father, Rick, also competed on the world circuit for moguls, aerials and ballet skiing.

Her inspiration to become an elite racer came watching the freestyle events live at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Jason Warick/CBC
Jason Warick/CBC

On Thursday, she performed a series of high box jumps, squats and stretches while training under Craven's supervision. The physiotherapist has been working with Schwinghammer on strength and conditioning since she was 15 years old. Even then, he noticed her intense focus and motivation.

"She owns it. She's committed, accountable and always striving for excellence," he said.

Schwinghammer said she's grateful to her entire support team, particularly Craven. He helped her to get healthy after an ugly spill last spring resulted in a broken collarbone.

Dave Holland
Dave Holland

"A lot of people are helping me on this journey, but I would not be here in one piece if it wasn't for Bruce," she said.

Among mountain sports enthusiasts, she takes pride in her Prairie roots.

"People are always surprised" to find out where she's from, she said with a laugh.

"I think I also have a bit of an advantage. I have a close community here that a lot of others don't."

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