Erin Mielzynski wants to 'ski from the heart'
Canadian slalom specialist adjusts approach to her sport
"Sometimes, I need to say to myself that it's OK to make a mistake and not be your best today."
That's an approach Erin Mielzynski hasn't always followed since the former elite junior water skier shifted to alpine a decade ago.
But during a rare healthy off-season, the Canadian slalom specialist split time between "intense" physical training and reflecting on her career and how she wanted to perform this season.
"For many years, I've forced my skiing in races," says Mielzynski, 27, who will open her season in World Cup action this weekend in Levi, Finland. "I've put a lot of expectations on myself that are completely unrealistic, at times. I have to take those expectations off and ski from my heart."
Last December, she dipped down to the Nor-Am Cup circuit following a slow start to the season that failed to yield a top-20 finish at World Cup events in Levi, the United States and Italy. She finished the season ranked 24th in the World Cup slalom standings.
Looking to rediscover her enjoyment of the sport, Mielzynski began "soul skiing," which she describes as a pursuit of complete freedom on the hill.
"It's running without thinking. It's walking, maybe, with your head in the clouds," says the native of Collingwood, Ont., who hopes to compete in February at the PyeongChang Olympics in South Korea. "It's a moment of meditation and a moment that probably shouldn't be that calm. It's even finding how beautiful the sport can be."
Transferring that free feeling to competition remains a work in progress, admits Mielzynski, the top Canadian slalom skier (15th) at the world championships last February in Switzerland.
"I have to bring that soul skiing to the races," she says. "I have to stand in the start [gate] and know that what I'm skiing for is those people at home that don't get to come to the race. For my grandparents, who have watched me ski since I was two.
"I'm not just skiing for myself anymore, and that's big for me."
In 2010, Mielzynski experienced the big stage at her Olympic debut in Vancouver, placing 20th in the slalom. Four years later in Sochi, Russia, she didn't finish the event but was 21st in the giant slalom.
In between, in 2012, she delivered Canada's first World Cup slalom victory since Betsy Clifford 41 years earlier.
A self-proclaimed perfectionist and over-thinker for many years, Mielzynski admits that seeking perfection could be detrimental to her performance. But she also wonders if it's the reason for the success she's experienced.
"I think it's something I'll deal with forever, because I expect perfection out of myself," she says.
"If the technical requirements meet those both mentally and tactically, then that perfectionism can give me a little extra that someone else doesn't have."
Another off-season goal for Mielzynski, who had battled a concussion, back issues and knee pain entering previous seasons, was to get physically stronger. To that end, she did a lot of biking, weightlifting, jumping, running and boxing.
"I wanted to get faster but also build that muscle that's usable muscle," she says. "Every ounce of muscle that I've built, I want it to be something I could use, something I could find rhythm with, find power and not necessarily have personal bests, but have all that muscle work in a more athletic way.
"My goal was to become a better athlete, to become a better skier. I have to start trusting what I've learned on snow, off snow and in the gym."