It began as a typical February day for Dustin Cook, with the perpetual underperformer starting in 28th position at the 2015 world alpine ski championships in Beaver Creek, Colo.
But out of nowhere, it all came together for the 25-year-old as Cook became the first Canadian to medal in the super-G at the event, earning silver in a time of one minute 15.79 seconds, 11 one-hundredths of a second behind winner Hannes Reichelt of Austria.
Cook went on to capture bronze in Kvitfjell, Norway before winning his first super-G race at the season-ending World Cup finals in Meribel, France, defeating 2014 Olympic gold medallist and season-long champion Kjetil Jansrud to rank fifth overall in his breakout season.
"One minute you're on top of the world and feel nothing can hurt you," says Cook, who opens the 2017-18 campaign at Lake Louise, Alta., on Sunday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 3 p.m. local time). "Once you're hurt, you're asking, 'How can I get back there?' Learning to do that again is interesting."
Cook, now 28, is a year removed from having his 2015-16 season wiped out following reconstructive surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee in training three days before a season-opening giant slalom in Austria. He also tore an adductor muscle in his left leg.
"Mentally, it's nice to have a full downhill season under my belt," says Cook, who is hoping to make his Olympic debut in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February. "I felt I was skiing last year the same as I did pre-injury. I just wasn't as strong as I needed to be, but I'm stronger now than I've ever been."
Nineteen months after his crash, Cook returned to Solden for a World Cup giant slalom last October but wasn't quick enough to earn a second run. He was satisfied with a 13th-place showing in Val d'Isere, France on Dec. 2 and a season-best sixth-place performance two weeks later at Val Gardena, Italy, but was also disappointed about several missed opportunities later in the season.
"Coming back, I wanted to get on the podium right away," says Cook, who was born in Toronto and grew up in Ottawa. "I still could have but with racing, things don't always go the way you want them to. Having to learn to be patient and to deal with [disappointing] results is frustrating."
'When you finally get back on the snow, it's the best feeling in the world. You forget how much fun you have out there.' — Canadian skier Dustin Cook on a long recovery from reconstructive knee surgery
While sidelined by the first serious knee injury of his career, Cook found watching races to be most challenging, wishing he was sharing the hill with friends and teammates and frustrated at seeing opponents post times he knew were beatable.
For the first two weeks, Cook remembers being in a ton of pain "like someone took a shotgun and shot me in my knee," which he hadn't prepared for.
"I would take one Percocet [a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodone] and I would hallucinate the entire day," he says. "It was really good [for alleviating pain] but I didn't like it at all."
Cook endured moments of anger while rehabbing but didn't dwell on his physical state. To break up the tedious repetition of working out in a gym, he would often train on a mountain bike, gaining mental strength as his lost season progressed.
"Having that [2014-15 season] was motivating. When you finally get back on the snow, it's the best feeling in the world," says Cook, who enjoys landscape photography and videography when not skiing. "You forget how much fun you have out there. It gives you a new perspective, a refreshed look at what you're doing.
"The knee hasn't been an issue, and wasn't last year. I know I have what it takes to hit the podium this season."