Drury leads host Canadian ski cross team into chilly World Cup at Nakiska

NAKISKA, Alta. — It's too cold for penguins, but not for ski cross racer Kevin Drury.

A cold front enveloping Alberta this week cancelled penguin walks at the Calgary Zoo, where tourists can witness the flightless birds waddling out and about.

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Zoo staff said temperatures were colder than the penguins' native Antarctica.

Toronto's Drury, currently ranked first in men's World Cup ski cross, says he's impervious to cold.

So the prospect of icy racing at Nakiska Ski Resort west of Calgary bothered him not at all.

"I run hot and that's not an exaggeration," the 31-year-old told The Canadian Press.

"When it's really cold out, I actually don't wear socks in my boots. My feet are so hot they get sweaty and if I have a sock, it gets soaking wet and then it freezes. Just the foam of the boot creates kind of a sauna.

"I'm meant to be a winter athlete. Doesn't work so well in the summer, but good in the winter."

A dozen Canadians will race Saturday at Nakiska in the fifth of eight World Cup races this season.

Drury and Kris Mahler of Canmore, Alta., currently rank first and second respectively in men's ski cross.

2014 Olympic champion Marielle Thompson of Whistler, B.C., sits third among women behind leader Sandra Naesland of Sweden and No. 2 Fanny Smith of Switzerland.

In ski cross, an athlete races three competitors down a course of turns and jumps. The top two advance to the next round with the goal of reaching the four-skier final.

Saturday's races were seeded from individual timed runs held Friday in a windchill of minus-25 at Nakiska. The mercury is predicted to rise slightly Saturday to minus-20.

FIS, the world governing body of skiing and snowboarding, doesn't set a minimum temperature for races.

An onsite race jury ultimately decides whether it's safe for a race to proceed.

Downhill skiers in skintight suits travelling at speeds over 130 kilometres per hour feel the cold more during a race than ski cross racers, who compete in thicker clothes on shorter courses.

But the latter make multiple trips up the mountain as they advance through heats and elimination rounds.

Cooling off on the chair lift means expending energy to warm up again to race.

Canadian women's team racer Courtney Hoffos, who does not run hot like Drury, has a strategy to manage temperature fluctuations.

"It's a lot of hydration, a lot of snacks," said the 22-year-old from Invermere, B.C. "Really having your energy high.

"I feel like when everyone else is warm, I'm never. I'm always cold I feel like. I've got my heated socks on and set to six out of nine all day. Got my hot pockets in my hands. I am wearing as much as I possibly can."

The Canadian team raced in windchill closer to minus-30 in last weekend's national championship in Red Deer, Alta.

"Kevin and I switched gloves in the start area for a bit," Hoffos said. "I basically cooled down his gloves. He warmed mine up for me."

Drury won races in France, Switzerland and Italy in the first half of the season. Mahler, 24, collected his first career victory and placed second in another race.

"I would have said two years ago would have been a breakout season when I was third overall, but for sure definitely I'm next level of breakout," Drury said.

Reigning Olympic men's champion Brady Leman of Calgary ranks eighth with one podium result this winter.

Drury, Leman, Mahler, Montreal's Chris Del Bosco, Reece Howden of Cultus Lake, B.C., and Gavin Rowell of Prince George, B.C., posted times in the top 32 on Friday to qualify for Saturday's heats.

The top 16 made the cut in a smaller women's field, so their competition will start with quarterfinals.

Thompson, 2018 Olympic silver medallist Brittany Phelan of Mont-Tremblant, Que., India Sherret and Zoe Chore of Cranbrook, B.C., Edmonton's Abby McEwen and Calgary's Antoinette Tansley advanced to Saturday.

The Canadian ski cross team wears stickers on their equipment in memory of teammate Mikayla Martin, who died in a mountain biking accident Oct. 1 in her hometown of Squamish, B.C.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2020.

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