Former Olympian and world championship medal winner Davey Barr, one of the pioneers of the sport of ski cross and a founding member of the dominant Canadian team, has retired from the sport, less than two years before the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Barr, 35. of Whistler, B.C., was part of the original group of racers who ventured away from the speedy disciplines of alpine racing to help create competitive ski cross. As many as four skiers share the ups and downs and obstacles of a hilly course as they speed toward a finish. Barr became the first man to win a ski cross World Cup race in North America.
Barr, whose final race turned out to be at Grindelwald, Switzerland where teammate Nik Zoricic died in a ski cross accident, started out as a member of the Rossignol ski cross team that competed at the early World Cups in Europe. He competed more than seven years as an international ski cross racer. After a Canadian ski cross team was formed in 2007, he went on to win a world championship medal and represent Canada.
The sport made its Olympic debut at the 2010 Vancouver Games, in B.C.
“At the start I was one of the only Canadians competing, and then, all of a sudden, Canada had one of the largest and most successful teams,” he said.
Barr made the switch from conventional alpine skiing to ski cross after watching the X Games on TV. Skier X racing caught his eye: six racers going head-to-head instead of the usual four.
“I was coaching in Whistler and on one of my days off there was a ski cross race, so I decided to do it,” Barr said. “My friend and I ended up first and second. From there, I decided to try X Games. I had to qualify for it but I got in, and then did a U.S. tour.”
Barr won ski cross silver at X Games 10 in 2005 before becoming a member of the Rossignol World Cup team, sponsored by a major international ski equipment manufacturer.
“We had a technician and a team manager... and we just sort of did things,” said Barr, for whom part of the journey was the team’s inventing ski cross as it developed.
“We were trying to figure out the sport. We were testing different skis, different poles, a whole bunch of different stuff. In addition to me there were a whole bunch of French racers and Peter Lind, from Sweden. We were in Europe doing kind of a World Cup tour. A lot of times I was the only Canadian over there. The other few Canadians in Europe he recalls were Stanley Hayer, Anik Demers and Aleisha Cline.”
“I do consider him one of the pioneers,” said Eric Archer, head coach of the Canadian team. “He was a little bit behind the earliest guys but he jumped in with both feet and got involved in Europe, competing in the early World Cups. He got to evolve with the sport from the beginning to what it has become now and he was competitive racer that whole.”
Barr was on the Canadian ski cross team that competed in 2007-08. He trained alongside Hayer, Chris Del Bosco, Ashleigh McIvor, Dave Duncan, Brian Bennett, Cam Culbert and Julia Murray.
“That was kind of the beginning,” said Del Bosco, the reigning ski cross world champion. “Davey’s an amazing skier. He has the whole package as far as the alpine background, big-mountain skiing in Whistler, picking lines and racing. He was really good in the air, good starts . . .
“It’s going to be kind of a bummer without Brian (Bennett, who recently retired) and Davey. They were there from the start.”
A year later Barr claimed the bronze medal at the world championships in Inawashiro, Japan.
The Olympic dream came true in 2010, but only after two days of incredible drama that saw him go from being an alternate to one of three Canadian men – Del Bosco and Hayer were the others – in the start gate as the sport made its debut in Vancouver.
“The year before the Olympics I was third at world championships and third at Cypress,” said Barr. “That summer I didn’t work so I could focus on training and Olympics and I felt I couldn’t really go wrong. But when I came into the season I couldn’t get a top 10 for the life of me. It just got worse and worse as the deadline got closer.”
Barr was named only the second alternate the ski cross team, behind teammate Brady Leman, of Calgary. Getting into his home Olympic Games seemed a matter of fate.
“Two days before the race, I was testing everyone else’s skis on the other side of Cypress,” Barr said. “I’m looking over my shoulder at the Olympic ski cross track and all kinds of thoughts were going through my head. Dave Duncan hurt himself that day and Brady was in.” That put Barr on the cusp.
“The next day I was going up the chair and I saw a group coming down. I could see someone had crashed and I was like, ‘Oh no.’ I later found out it was Brady – if he was out, I was in.” Leman’s hopes for the Olympics were gone.
“I got changed, I walked up to Brady and gave him a hug. Then I basically left to drive to Squamish (B.C.) to get my race skis and brought them back to Cypress.
“(Ski cross director of sport) Dave Ellis told me to go to a place called the Sin Bin and hang out there while he ran around sorting out accreditation. I had dinner in the bar and finally got the call. I moved into the village at 8 p.m. The night before the race I watched a bunch of video. I slept in one of the tech’s beds. I had missed two days of training and in retrospect it took the pressure away a little bit. Just do what you can – that’s all you can do.”
Barr finished a respectable sixth in the men’s race. Del Bosco ended up fourth, while Barr’s teammate Ashleigh McIvor won gold in the women’s race. Canada has been the No. 1 team on the World Cup circuit for several years, having won its fourth consecutive Nations’ Cup title at the end of the 2011-12 season.
McIvor, the first female ski cross Olympic gold medalist, credits Barr with helping her find balance as a full-time athlete.
“Davey has always inspired me to make time for our other sports, like downhill mountain biking or dirt biking, or even free skiing; this has made me a well-rounded athlete, which has been key to my success,” McIvor said. “I have to say I really wouldn’t have been where I’m at if it weren’t for him.
“We grew up in Whistler training for ski cross, though it didn't actually exist in its current format, but to us it is just like racing our buddies from the top of the mountain to the bottom, with all sorts of awesome features thrown in,” McIvor said.
Murray, Barr’s long-time teammate on the hill and girlfriend off it, said ski cross is a sport that allowed him to “put all of his natural athletic abilities to the test.
“Each teammate could always put their trust in him when it came to figuring out techy courses,” she said. “Davey’s career in ski cross may be done, but his love for competition will carry on in other endless aspects of life.”
Barr is the father of a five-year-old girl, he recently resumed working for his dad’s consulting company [Don Barr Consulting Ltd.,]in Whistler. He said he is finishing his apprenticeship in carpentry.