“Every time you switch a guide you have to learn something different. It keeps things exciting, keeps the motivation alive. Things can tend to get monotonous after a while and pretty repetitive after a couple of seasons in a row.”
Para alpine skier Mac Marcoux is sounding remarkably relaxed for a man whose sporting life has been turned upside down in the eight months since he picked up his second Paralympic gold medal in PyeongChang. The vision impaired athlete’s close friend and guide of three years, Jack Leitch, chose to bow out in style, after winning downhill gold and giant slalom bronze in South Korea, leaving Marcoux searching for a fourth new lead man in five seasons.
But not only does the five-time world champion Canadian not mind starting from scratch again, he is positively revelling in the opportunity it provides.
“It’s a fresh, new way of coming into the season. It’s a good feeling to have now and then,” he says, ahead of starting his 2018/19 campaign. “Every time you switch a guide you have to learn something different. It keeps things exciting, keeps the motivation alive. Things can tend to get monotonous after a while and pretty repetitive after a couple of seasons in a row.”
The new man in the hot seat is 19-year-old Tristan Rodgers. The prospect of racing with Marcoux was more than enough to persuade Rodgers to put his studies at the University of Ottawa on hold. Although, understandably, the former FIS (International Ski Federation) circuit racer had to prove his worth before the position was confirmed.
“We went through a trial process in the spring and then we went to Chile for a camp,” Marcoux explains. With the 21-year-old Marcoux depending on his guide’s sight as they fly down the mountain at speeds of up to 100km/hr, making sure the pair were compatible was key.
Thankfully for Rodgers, the main man is pretty content so far.
“It has been awesome,” Marcoux says. “It took a little bit of time to change position but I think we are building on a lot of good skiing right now.”
It is a process Marcoux knows well. Despite his youth, the man from Sault Sainte Marie has already raced behind his brother Billy Joe and friends Robin Femy and Leitch. While all of them are brilliant skiers, they do differ in style. Interestingly, Marcoux believes Rodgers’ natural shape on the slopes perhaps comes closest to his own.
“Tristan skis very similar to me, he is a little more active – Jack was a lot more mellow, he was doing a lot but it didn’t look like he was doing a lot,” Marcoux says. “Tristan has a lot of movement in his skiing and that’s really good for me, to be able to watch it.”
But none of that means anything without some serious, hard graft.
“Honestly, it’s just a lot of mileage,” Marcoux says of the process involved in creating a new partnership. “We have to get lots of laps in. You build on each day and each experience. The more I get to see how he skis, the more I can trust him.”
With that implicit, unthinking confidence in the person in front of you so critical, bonding off the slopes is just as important for Marcoux and Rodgers as on them. Luckily, this pair of adrenaline junkies share another hair-raising passion.
“Riding bikes and talking bikes is something we really enjoy,” Marcoux says with a laugh. “We spend a lot of time in the off-season mountain biking. Most of the time I ride solo (without a guide) but it definitely helps to follow somebody along. I still pick my line but having the ability to have an idea of what is coming ahead on a trail is always awesome.”
Neither Rodgers nor Marcoux wants to put pressure on their fledging partnership. Coming out of this season “with confidence” is the party line. But do not be fooled. Marcoux and Rodgers will be a pair to be feared at the 2019 World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Sella Nevea/Kranjska Gora in late January. For one thing, Rodgers is almost as obsessed with speed as his fearless boss.
“He is really driven to just be the fastest he can be, it’s kind of crazy sometimes, he is always looking for more,” Marcoux laughs. “It’s inspiring.”