Brant Crossan: Ski Cross Is Spectacular
By Grant Johnson
Brant Crossan ahead of the competition at the Swiss Nationals in 2013.
Lowell Whiteman School and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club alum Brant Crossan took time out from his busy schedule to catch up with Steamboat Magazine.
Q. Ski cross was part of the Olympics starting in 2010?
A. Yes. Vancouver was the first appearance.
Q. What got you involved in the sport?
A. I used to race Alpine growing up. I went through the Winter Sports Club, and I took a PG (post graduate) year. I had a friend who said they were going over to do a ski cross and I should come with them. I went over to Copper Mountain, and I did the race and it was a lot of fun; I really enjoyed it. It qualified me for another race at the end of the year, so I did that and I won. Then people were saying, “You should consider getting into this sport.” I started doing more and more races and that’s when I really got into it.
Q. What was going your mind that first time you won?
A. It was very different. I wasn’t used to other people skiing all around me. In Alpine, you’re all alone, where in ski cross you’re with three other people. That was a whole different element for me. My idea was just to get in front of people as much as I could, then you don’t have to worry about them. It’s a pretty good thought pattern, I’ve learned.
Q. Is there a lot of strategy that goes into overtaking people, or the line you take through a turn? I’m sure there’s some carryover from Alpine.
A. There are two big things in ski cross that are different from Alpine strategy. The first is the start. You’re all lined up, kind of like a dirt bike race or a horse race, then the gate drops and you all have an equal chance. I’d say the start is probably about 90% of the race, and you have to have a good, quick reaction time to get off the start. If you can get in front, you usually stay in front for the entire heat.
The other big part of ski cross is drafting. Like Nascar, where they’ll draft behind other people, to conserve fuel and to make speed, a similar thing applies in ski cross. If you get someone in front of you, you can get in their draft stream and you can create so much speed. That really goes into a lot of the passing aspect because you can get into someone’s draft at a certain moment or certain time in the course and you can plan when you’re going to pass him, on the straightaway or over a jump, or maybe a turn. The draft is definitely a large part. It’s difficult when you start learning, but once you understand it and you can feel it, that’s when you really start to excel.
Q. Are there any developments you’d like to see in ski cross, maybe even at Sochi?
A. Currently, I think the stage the sport is in, it’s growing. It’s the 11th year on the World Cup circuit and its second Olympic appearance. Right now, at the Olympic level, I think everything’s pretty much set, the way it’s going to be – the racing style, four men. There was an argument for a while that we should race six at a time, but I think we’re going to stick with the four pattern. Seems to be working pretty well.
In the overall development of the sport, I’d like to see more development in younger people. The problem with the sport right now is we don’t have enough people in it. A lot of the racers are crossovers from Alpine. We don’t have any development programs for younger racers, say 13- and 14-year-olds.
Q. Right now, it sounds like a lot of people get into it similarly to you. They’re Alpine racers and they find out about ski cross and they compete and like it.
A. Yes, a lot of the top guys on the World Cup circuit are ex-Alpine racers, GS or Super-G or downhill skiers. Their Alpine race career didn’t pay out or they were finished and they crossed over to ski cross. I’d say probably 95% of the entire ski cross population is like that. Some of the newer people who are coming into the sport are big mountain skiers, like free skiers, and they come into it with a totally different aspect of air and the lines you should take, which is really good for the sport. The combination of the two minds kind of brings it all together and makes something spectacular.
Q. How is the race scored? Is it whoever crosses the finish line first, or are there points awarded for air or style points?
A. It’s a freestyle sport. Technically, there are judges, but it’s a race against your companions; you’re racing against other people so there’s no real judging. You’re not scored for tricks. The way it works is, first you do time trails, where you do go by yourself, and you race against the clock. Then they take the top 32 athletes from the time trials and make eight heats of four. Then it’s two-style elimination, with the top people from each bracket advancing to the next round. Then at the final heat, you’re the last four people standing. And then it’s all for all.
Q. Do you have any prerace rituals?
A. Usually the day of the race, I like to wake up early. I usually have a lot of ski work to do. I like doing that in the morning when everyone else is asleep. Just finishing up from the night before, getting ready for the day. When I get on the hill, I like to listen to music, and I always joke around and talk with my friends. Our sport’s really friendly, so everybody likes to talk with each other. We’ll jump around and have a fun time. Then you warm up on your own, swing your legs and what not, then you get in the gate and do your thing. That’s racing. When you get down to the bottom and no matter what happens, tell the other person, “good job.” They’ll say the same thing back. That’ll happen every time. It’s a really great feeling to know that people feel the same way you do at the end of the race, so that’s cool.
Q. What’s on your playlist?
A. Right now, I’ve been listening to a lot of remix; I do some Deadmau5. For a pump-up list, I’ll usually play maybe some country here and there. I know it kind of sounds funny, but maybe a little Taylor Swift. Usually just a lot of remixes, and kind of like heavy music to get you pumped up and ready to go. Stuff that gets your head bombin’ and you get in the right mood. When it’s race time, you’re ready to go in the gate and, yeah!
Q It’s so funny that you said Taylor Swift because so many of the people that we interviewed said Taylor Swift.
A. She’s got some good sounds. I’m not a huge country person or anything, but she’s got some good sounds. I listen to the big beat, I just like hearing the drums or the base in the background.
Q. What does a typical day of training look like for you?
A. It’s kind of strange. We don’t really have a ski cross team. I’m on the unofficial U.S. team, but we haven’t really been named yet. When I’m home in Steamboat, I like to go into the park and hit the big jumps, just practice the big jumps. I really like getting up in the morning and skiing down Heavenly Daze on some super-G skis. I usually carry enough speed that it carries me across the Christie knoll. That’s probably one of the greatest training feelings I can have, just ripping in the morning.
Q. Have you had to change your lifestyle to get ready for the Olympics?
A. I had a pretty big lifestyle change this summer. I moved out to Park City for training. The U.S. Ski Team has a team out there and it’s excellent. I got on a training program. Started running a lot more than I ever have before. Got into a routine that was really good, really healthy and I was eating good. It was a really good summer, got really strong, really fit. I’m feeling better than probably I’ve ever felt in my life.
Q. Besides, Sochi, are there any other races you’re looking forward to in particular?
A. Most of the World Cup courses – I love ‘em all. I just love the sport. I like the big courses and the World Cup is your place to shine. If I had to pick one course that I’m really ready and excited to ski this year, it would probably be, Nakiska, Canada. I really like that course. It’s our first World Cup race. I like that course, it’s built very well and the Canadians treat us very nicely up there. I love the way they build it and the way it flows and the jumps. They try to use all aspects of any course that’s ever been built. Lots and lots of features, stuff you’ve never seen before. Really gives a good perspective to the whole sport. I just really like being up there.
Q. Personally, this is my first time learning about ski cross, and I think a lot of other people are going to be the same.
A. It’s a growing sport and a lot of people are just learning about it. It’s a wonderful spectator sport; it’s just so much fun to watch.