More than the first Olympic ski cross gold medalist, or a racer who grew up charging cliffs in Whistler, or a sometimes runway model, Ashleigh McIvor is a mountain girl. A real one. She lives in a “half cabin, half shack” she built in Pemberton, B.C., and rides her heavy downhill mountain bike in a tank top. She hunts. She parties. She has no TV. When you talk about skiing, there is little she believes is beyond her ability, from head-to-head racing to freeskiing competitions. But, because McIvor, 27, lives in Western Canada, she’s not as well known in America. She ranks fourth on the World Cup circuit, and this week she’s headed to the Winter X Games where she will try to turn last year’s silver into this year’s gold. We caught up with her via Skype from her home in Pemby.
I realize it’s been nearly a year, but what was it like to win Olympic gold down the road from where you grew up?
I think it was more of a relief than anything. It all was very surreal, but the biggest thing was like, "Oh my God, I’m so glad I didn’t let all these people down who had put so much time and energy into this goal."
How would you like the mainstream public to view ski cross?
The way that I see it, it’s for the alpine racers who grew up and developed that whole skill set, and it wasn’t enough for us. I just got bored with alpine racing. It’s not that I didn’t make it, it’s not that I couldn’t have made it. I used to smoke all the girls who are on the [Canadian] alpine team now when we were little. I think you have to have that alpine background, but you also have to have a bit of a wild side.
When will we see you competing in big-mountain events or filming?
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to compete to get my name out there, because I’m not really into judged events. But that’s kind of a direction I’d like to go. Go ski powder and hit up the backcountry.
How do you think you’d do in one of those contests?
I think I’d do just fine.
You’ve done some magazine shoots with less clothing than a typical race suit, and some runway modeling in New York. What’s your feeling on the whole swimsuit trend for skiers and snowboarders?
I think it just comes down to personal choice. I don’t know I would do it. I’m sure it boosted Lindsey Vonn’s brand image and exposure. I’m just not sure that’s what I’m after—that brand image. And I’m not sure my sponsors would be after that.
You’ve had some gnarly injuries, right?
If you add all the time I’ve spent completely incapacitated due to injuries, it's basically three years of my life. When I was 16, I broke my leg and my foot was pointing 180 degrees the wrong direction. I’ve dislocated my shoulder 20 or 25 times. I dislocated my other shoulder downhilling, and instead of my rotator cuff tearing, it held on and a big chunk of my humerus got ripped off and lodged into my shoulder joint. Got a big screw in that shoulder. Yeah, the list goes on. My back still hurts from compressing a vertebrate five years ago. It’s killing me right now.
You think skiing will be your career when you’re done racing?
I’m not sure. I change my mind all the time. Sometimes I think I’ll go back to school, finish up, or start something completely new. I have some friends in the valley who are still milking their biking and ski careers 20 years after they stopped competing. I’m a go-with-the-flow kind of person. I’m not very good at planning. I guess if anyone wants to understand my priorities, look at my huge, 340-square-foot house. I pretty much spend my life outside, doing sports. I’ve never been after the rat-race style.