Shooting star: Canadian freestyle skier Amy Fraser soaring to new heights
27-year-old Calgarian landed 1st-ever World Cup podium, X Games invite this season
Canadian halfpipe skier Amy Fraser couldn't have imagined all her life experience could have led to this.
From taking up the sport of freestyle skiing in her early 20s, to making the Beijing Olympic halfpipe final six years later, to landing her first-ever World Cup podium and X Games invite this season at age 27, Fraser is just getting started.
It's one thing to take up a sport so late, but one where you ski 22-foot walls while throwing down flips and tricks? That's next level.
But that's Fraser in a nutshell.
"If they can do it, why can't I?"
WATCH | Amy Fraser wins World Cup freeski halfpipe silver:
That might just be her unofficial motto since being discovered while teaching herself rails and tricks at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary in 2016.
"I didn't really have the ambition to compete at that time, but I started looking at the girls in the sport and thought it doesn't look that hard, why couldn't I do what they were doing, but I just thought I was too old already."
If age is nothing but a number, then Fraser is a living proverb.
"My initial impression of Amy was this woman has come in and she's had a later start than the average traditional athlete that you've found at this stage, but when I met her and saw her, it was obvious how much she wanted it and how smart and motivated she was," said Canadian halfpipe coach Trennon Paynter.
"That stood out instantly."
Similar to Olympic bronze medallist teammate Rachael Karker, who was a competitive ski racer, ballerina and trampolinist, Fraser had the building blocks to be a great freestyle skier from the beginning.
Born in Halifax, Fraser spent her formative years in Medicine Hat, Alta., where she became a multi-sport athlete — a competitive ski racer and gymnast.
She credits both sports in helping her trajectory.
"I think the gymnastics was huge for air awareness," she said of Salta Gymnastics Club where she was coached by 1974 Romanian champion Eva Paniti-Meyer ("the freaking best coach," according to Fraser).
"Every time in training, I'd get a half hour break for our lunches, I would try and eat my food as fast as possible — which wasn't always the best recipe — and then go spend the rest of my free time at lunch bouncing on the trampoline," Fraser said.
As for skiing, she started with her family at the age of two and eventually joined a small racing program out of the Hidden Valley Ski Hill in Medicine Hat, Alta., where she had a Level 4 ski instructor.
Her stepping stone onto the freestyle skiing scene started with a chance meeting at Canada Olympic Park. Fraser would ski in the early mornings or evenings while finishing her biology degree at the University of Calgary.
There, local coach Dave Stevenson of the Calgary Freeriderz club saw her and invited her to come ski with the team.
"They had access to an air bag and I was like 'Holy Hannah do I ever want to ski with you guys, that would be so sick,' I could learn to do a backflip," she said.
"I figured that was a safer approach rather than me just giving it a go on skis."
It was Stevenson who encouraged her to start entering competitions.
"He is the coolest. He was like why don't you enter a contest? Who cares, you're not too old, let's put you in."
From there, she moved on to Rex Thomas' team at WinSport and competed at NorAm competitions across Canada and the United States. Thomas was a very technical coach and encouraged his athletes to ski all three disciplines — big air, slopestyle and halfpipe.
"That's something I've always admired, someone like Gus Kenworthy, watching him ski slope and ski halfpipe and now all the people who do all the disciplines, like Eileen [Gu] and Kelly [Sildaru]," Fraser said.
Within three years, she was asked onto the Canadian NextGen program for halfpipe working with then-coaches Jeremy Cooper and Matt Margetts. She made the national team just one year before the Beijing Olympics, where she finished eighth.
"It was an incredible experience," she said. "I just left feeling like anyone who doesn't get a medal, being kind of motivated to never feel that way again. So maybe it changed me in terms of lighting the fire even more."
Strong start to season
Fraser got an early Christmas present in December when she picked up a silver medal at the opening World Cup of the season at Copper Mountain, Colo., finishing just behind Karker.
"I just really wanted to put down the run that I ended up putting down. The nerves were definitely real, but it just kind of all came together," she said of her first career podium. "It was freaking unreal and I was just stoked at how it worked out."
In her winning run, she pulled off a switch cork 900, becoming the first woman in the world to do that trick in the pipe (skiing in backwards, flipping two-and-a-half rotations and landing backwards).
"She's adding to her bag of tricks all the time," Paynter said. "She pushes hard.
"[The first major podium is] such a game-changing moment for an athlete when they go from wondering if they're ever going to win a medal or capable of winning a medal to proving that they do belong on the podium. I'm really stoked to see where she goes from here."