When Sasha Zaitsoff steps into the start gate for Friday’s GMC Cup men’s slalom at Red Mountain, it will complete an incredible circle for the young skier.
The 20-year-old Balfour native honed his elite racing skills as a member of the Red Mountain Racers.
He climbed the ranks provincially and nationally and capped off his ascent to the top of the competitive mountain in January when he competed in his first World Cup race in Adelboden, Switz.
It was a surreal moment for Zaitsoff, who spent his formative years traveling to endless races across the Kootenays, B.C., Canada and North America.
“It didn’t even sink in (that he was about to compete in a World Cup race) until I got off the airplane in Switzerland,” Zaitsoff said from his parents’ home on Tuesday. “I still couldn’t believe it.”
Zaitsoff had been off to a great start in the Nor-Am circuit and that caught the eye of the national ski team decision makers.
“The World Cup race was kind of a perk,” he explained. “I wasn’t expecting it and it wasn’t one of my goals for the season.”
Nevertheless, there he was in the start gate racing at the world’s top level against the best skiers on the planet.
“I remember being not as nervous as I thought I would be,” he recalled. “I was actually quite calm and ready to really go for it. Even though I knew it was going to be really challenging and the conditions were not great.”
Starting second-to-last Zaitsoff posted a strong run but not enough to qualify for a second run in the slalom race.
“The coaches that I was with said they were happy with the way approached it and didn’t get too freaked out. All they wanted me to do was go for it.”
It took Zaitsoff only a couple of minutes to race down the mountain but the memory is lasting much longer.
“There were so many people there and so loud, you can hear them while you’re skiing down,” he said.
As for the dream of racing on the World Cup circuit, Zaitsoff said the experience only showed him that it’s a long climb to the top.
“It’s kind of like a payoff but you see how much harder you have to work.”
After spending the rest of January in Europe competing on the Europa Cup circuit and training, he returned to North America two weeks ago and raced in a Miele Cup event at Apex Mountain in Penticton.
Zaitsoff posted a pair of fourth-place finishes in downhill and Super G.
“We went there with the B.C. team and used it as training,” he explained.
He was back on the Nor-Am circuit last week in Aspen, Colo., where he placed 19th in the Nor-Am Cup downhill and 11th the following day, which served as the U.S. national downhill championship.
He was 16th and 35th in a pair of Nor-Am Super G races, which wrapped up on Friday.
Finally he was able to return to the West Kootenay for a bit of a breather.
“This has been the longest break I’ve had all winter except for Christmas.”
He hasn’t skied competitively at Red Mountain in a couple of years but he’s looking forward to returning to the local resort and spend some time with the next crop of Red Mountain Racers.
“I really like to come back to the club and talk to the kids. It’s nice to be able to give back.”
Zaitsoff is only racing Friday and Saturday then he’s headed to Nakiska for training and prepare for the last push of the season.
“We still have two more really big races, the Nor-Am finals in Whistler and the Canadian championships at Nakiska.”
Those two races could go a long way in determining how next season unfolds.
The national team will make its World Cup selections at the end of April and strong performances in those two key races could be the boost Zaitsoff needs to return to the top level – for good.