Canadian Reece Howden’s successes and failures helped him find his way back to the top
Reece Howden is confident that this is the best he has ever ridden.
The 24-year-old tops the men’s Ski Cross World Cup standings after taking five straight podiums in seven races and winning two gold and three silver medals.
That stint sounds like a natural progression for someone who is no stranger to the men’s Crystal Globe ski cross, which is awarded to the athlete with the most points in a World Cup season.
But in reality, the disappointing 2022 campaign that followed Howden’s title in 2021 might just be the key to his recent level.
“It was just the perfect storm in a bad sense, but the beauty of it is that we learned so much from it,” Howden told CBC Sports of last year’s struggles from his pitch near Adams Lake, BC
The Olympian managed just one win and three podiums in 11 races in the 2022 World Cup season – a far cry from his first full campaign at the circuit in 2021.
That season, Howden won four gold medals and two silver medals, while also earning the International Ski Federation (FIS) Rookie of the Year award and Crystal Globe.
It turns out the slump in earnings gave him more opportunity to grow than his breakthrough year.
“You don’t really learn much if you ski well and do things well. Only when you fail, when you make mistakes, do you really learn.”
WATCH WATCH l Howden drives to first win of the season to gold in Italy in December:
Howden, who switched from alpine skiing to ski cross when he was 17, sums it up in one simple phrase: Now he “knows what’s going on”.
“[In the 2021 season] I was just skiing fast and happy and that was basically it. [Now]I have a lot more grounding on why I skied fast and what I do to be fast,” said the athlete, who was born in Chilliwack, BC and raised in Cultus Lake, BC
“Physically I’m at the top like never before. I’m beating personal bests every day it seems. Mentally I’m aware of my expectations of what I want to do in races and how I want to act. And I also know tactically what I’m doing and what I need to think about when I’m racing so I’m in the right headspace to be successful.”
“He came back hungry this year”
Howden “was almost unstoppable” when he won the crystal globe, said Stanley Hayer, head coach of the Canadian ski cross team and a former freestyle skier who represented Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Then came the low point the following season when Howden finished only 12th overall, 292 points behind champion Ryan Regez of Switzerland (559 vs. 267).
“I think that usually happens when you’re successful. It’s hard to repeat,” Hayer said. “He came back hungry this year. He really wanted to win. You can see that in the summer work he’s put in. With his physical strength, skill and attitude, he’s hard to beat at the moment.”
More than a one-time Crystal Globe winner potentially on his way to his second honor, Howden is the “total package,” Hayer said.
“He does a lot of things really well. He doesn’t do anything incredible. There are people who do things better than him, but when you put the whole package together with his power and his ability to turn and ski fast, that makes the difference he unbeatable.”
Knowing more about gear prep and visualizing his races in advance also helped, Howden said. For example, to adjust your expectations.
“When I was younger I always thought if you win the crystal ball or a world championship [race], your life would change. And it took me a while to understand that wasn’t the case and to accept that and find the real reason I was doing what I was doing.”
Howden’s streak of five straight podiums is good for 481 points, 153 points behind Mathias Graf of Austria, currently second in the standings.
Brady Leman is the second-best Canadian at No. 12. Also in the top-20 are Kris Mahler (18th) and Kevin Drury (19th), who became the first Canadian to win the crystal globe in the sport in the 2020 season.
The next World Cup station is scheduled for February 15th to 17th at the Reiteralm in Austria. The track will then travel to Germany and Switzerland before the final event of the season at Craigleith Ski Club in Collingwood, Ontario on March 16-18.
“It would be a very special place to be awarded the crystal ball. My family will all be there and on home soil. It will feel good and hopefully it will happen. It’s all about consistency and health at this point,” Howden said.
His first World Cup win came in January 2020 in Canada at Nakiska Ski Resort in Kananaskis Country, Alta.
Big Rig Radio
Howden is hosting the four-episode Big Rig Radio podcast, which launched in November, in which he is joined by other athletes to cover the mental and physical aspects of athletics, among other topics.
“It’s more for self-improvement and hopefully once I get the ball rolling it can inspire some people and get a little more traction,” said Howden, who uses the project to hone his voice, video and audio editing skills .
“At this point we’re just trying to say the things that a lot of people don’t hear and to promote ski cross and this lifestyle. We’re just trying to get out there and share our stories.”
Howden finished ninth in his Olympic debut in Beijing 2022 after being knocked out in the quarterfinals.
Only the Canadian, then 35-year-old Leman, did better, who won the 2018 event in Pyeongchang and finished sixth in the Chinese capital.
“There were many things I could have done to improve my performance [at the Games]. I learned a lot from it and at some point I realized that I wasn’t visualizing the track enough.
“I wanted to come back with a medal but it just wasn’t to be,” said Howden, who won gold in men’s ski cross at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games.
While Milano Cortina 2026 is not in the near future, Howden is looking forward to a better experience in terms of logistics and atmosphere.
“Being at the Olympics beforehand will make things a lot easier… It’ll be so much easier in Italy without COVID, without the travel… It took us 36 hours door-to-door just to get to Canada from China. It was very difficult for the body. There were four different flights. It was unfortunate that you couldn’t have any of your family members there either.
WATCH l CBC Sports’ Anastasia Bucsis spoke to Howden after the 1st Crystal Ball win: