Erik Read is of a different breed, he is one of Canada’s best ski racers, but his development was unlike many of his competitors
Many North American sports streamline their young athletes through the NCAA, but for alpine ski racing, it’s a rarity, with many athletes choosing to train full time rather than pursuing an education at the same time.
At 17 years old, youth ski racers are faced with a challenging question.
What role do they want ski racing to have in their life?
There are only two answers, to stop at that age, or to continue into a much more competitive and time-consuming Federation International du Ski (FIS) program. If the latter is chosen, there is another choice for North American athletes. Whether to pursue an education at an NCAA school, on committing their entire lives to ski racing. Many choose the second option, but Erik Read opted for school, choosing to attend and ski for the University of Denver while also pursuing his Olympic dream.
Read comes from a family of skiing success. He’s the son of decorated alpine racer Ken Reid, who was part of the popular era in Canadian ski racing. He was a member of the “Crazy Canucks,” a men’s team that ruled the ski racing world cup for a number of years. His father won five world cup gold medals, alongside another nine podiums. With such a bloodline in the family, Erik had some very good guidance when he was choosing to attend school or not.
An interesting difference between Erik and Ken is that they specialize in different disciplines of the same sport. Ken, and the “Crazy Canucks” were superstars in the speed section, whilst Erik fancies himself a technical racer. When choosing what to specialize in, Erik opted for the other side of the sport to make his own name, rather than live in the shadow of his father. His brother Jefferey made the opposite decision, opting to participate in the speed events.
Attending school, he has some very busy weeks. In speaking with the Toronto Star ahead of the 2018 winter Olympics in PyeongChang, he said that he had one week where he raced in Switzerland, landed a top 10 world cup finish, then flew back to Denver, wrote a midterm, all before leading his team to the NCAA championships in Utah. It is certainly not an easy lifestyle for an athlete, but it is one that Read is finding success in and is a pioneer for young Canadian skiers.
His dedication to education is something that shows how the Olympics have evolved. Traditionally, the games were for amateur athletes only, meaning that athletics was often a side endeavour to a full-time salary job. In today’s world, that is not the case, with most competitors dedication themselves to their sports year-round. While this has elevated the level of competition, it has not benefitted athletes in their post-Olympic lives. Read has turned back the clock, pursuing an education. It would be easy to assume that he would not be able to compete with the full-timers, however, that is the case as he is one of the best technical racers on the world cup circuit. With an education, he sets himself up for a post skiing life and is also finding success on the slopes.
He has broken records in nearly every NCAA season he has participated in. NCAA races are sanctioned by FIS and can help racers world ranking by awarding international points. Read has regularly put up more points a season than any of his predecessors at U Denver, which boasts one of the countries most prestigious alpine programs. This has earned him a regular spot representing Canada on North American and world stages.
While it is not an Olympic year in 2019-20, his high performance expectation remains, and he started the year on a very good note. In the season’s first race at Sölden, Austria, he posted his best-ever finishing, coming seventh in the giant slalom. It is a good start to the season for him, a year in which he seeks to earn his first world cup podium.
Erik Read is a special Canadian talent and has chosen an uncommon path in his sport. It’s working for him and he’s sticking with it as he strives for the elusive Audi FIS World Cup title.