Mont-Tremblant World Cup 'a dream come true' for local favourite Grenier
MONT-TREMBLANT, Que. — Valérie Grenier was so young the first time she snowploughed down the trails at Mont-Tremblant, she can’t even remember it.
Grenier was only two years old when her parents put her on skis, since then she’s piled up countless memories while learning to master the mountain.
This weekend, the 27-year-old is Canada’s top medal hope in two women's World Cup giant slalom races in Mont-Tremblant — the first of their kind at the Laurentians ski resort since 1983.
"It means everything, it's honestly a dream come true,” she said. “I never really thought that this would be possible.
“There's going to be so many fans here cheering for us — my family, friends, just everyone — so I think it's going to be the most amazing feeling.”
Grenier grew up in St. Isidore, Ont., but lived her weekends on the hill 100 kilometres north in Mont-Tremblant, where her grandparents owned a condo.
Thousands of spectators are expected to turn up and cheer on the local favourite, but her grandfather is one fan in particular who will be bursting with pride as the two-time Olympian shreds down the hill.
Marcel Bourdon and his wife, Louise, owned that condo where it all began 25 years ago.
Through the years they encouraged their granddaughter’s progress every run along the way. Louise passed away last summer, but Marcel will watch his granddaughter compete at this level for the very first time.
“He's very excited, he's telling everyone about it,” said Grenier. “He went skiing with my mom the other day, and apparently every time they were going up the gondola he would tell everyone that I'm his granddaughter and he's so excited to watch the race.”
Although Grenier doesn’t remember her first few times down the hill, Marcel does.
"When I was three or four, we were skiing together and he said every 15 seconds I would fall and do a little flip,” said Grenier. “He was like, 'oh my God, she's gonna be crying or hurt,’ and I would just get up and keep going … at the bottom, he'd be like, 'hey, are you OK?' And I was like, 'Yeah, it's fine grandpa, don't worry.'
“He just keeps telling me that story and he's so proud.”
Far from the child who tumbled down the hill every 15 seconds, Grenier’s homecoming could hardly arrive at a better time in her career.
After a lengthy recovery from breaking her leg and ankle during a downhill training run at the 2019 world championships, Grenier has bounced back while focusing more of her time on technical competitions.
Last season, she finished a career-best seventh in the World Cup giant slalom standings and also won her first World Cup gold medal in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia in January. This season she’s finished seventh in Austria and fifth last weekend in Killington, Vt.
Canada women’s alpine head coach Laurent Praz believes that victory in Slovenia set the stage for the run she’s been on since.
“She's more aware of how good she is, and she's been able to race with less stress,” he said. “In the past, she was making a lot of mistakes because she thought that she needed to do something special to be able to win a race. Now she knows … if she's herself, it's enough to win.”
Grenier says having the race in her own backyard might give her an edge over her opponents, which include two-time Olympic gold medallist Mikaela Shiffrin.
But she also faces some extra pressure as the centre of attention for the weekend.
"It's a bit of a mix of emotions,” said Grenier. “I see it as a good thing, because I'll be racing in front of all my family, friends, and everyone there will be cheering for us Canadians, so I want to take that energy and use it to my advantage.
“But at the same time … obviously I want to do well in front of everyone that I care about.”
Praz says Grenier is also putting pressure on herself to be there for all her fans off the track.
"If someone’s asking for her picture, a signature, a selfie, she feels bad if she cannot give to everyone,” he said. “But I said, 'Val, you may know 1,000 people here, how can you be available for everyone and race at the same time?'”
When it comes to racing, Praz has full confidence that Grenier can shut out the noise.
He calls Grenier a “mentally strong” skier who’s really good at balancing her emotions and getting focused when it’s go-time.
"She's really good to be really on top of it when she's racing,” he said. “I'm not afraid that she's getting crazy these days."
What’s more, Praz thinks the Tremblant course is especially suited to her abilities.
The slope consists of two steep sections early that are each followed by lengthy flats, something that fits Grenier because she’s “more or less” the best in the world at transferring speed from vertical to horizontal parts of a course.
With all that in mind, Praz sees no need to temper the expectations.
"Where she is now, she can win the race or be seventh," he said. "That said, I expect a podium from Val, honestly."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2023.