It’s been a good four weeks for Nelson skier Trace Cooke, despite suffering a knee injury.
In January, the 18-year-old freeride skier won his first adult event when he took top spot in Verbier, Switzerland during Freeride Week.
After the high of his first win, Cooke suffered a sudden low when just a few days later, he injured his knee during a practice run. He hit a boulder which was hidden by the new foot of powder that fell at Verbier.
After a quick examination, it was established that Cooke suffered a small tear to a few ligaments in his knee.
He wisely took some time off and allowed the injury to heal — at least a little.
But on February 1, he was back in contention for top spot and won his second Swatch Freeride World Qualifier (FWQ) race, this time in Chamonix, France.
Now, back in Nelson, Cooke took some time off the ski hill to talk with the Nelson Star about his most recent victory.
“I’m one of the youngest skiers at 18. The age category goes to like 35 so there are some pretty experienced riders,” he said about the competition in France.
“Having injured my knee two weeks before the race, I was pretty much playing it safe the week before,” he explained.
Cooke said he wanted to save as much as he could for the actual competition so he was dedicated to resting and icing his knee as much as possible.
He decided that two days before the competition he would go out riding to test the knee out. It wasn’t 100 per cent but he made the decision to compete. It turned out to be the right move.
“I had to learn how to tape my knee and use a knee brace, tensor bandage and pain killers,” said Cooke.
He then got the opportunity to go out on the course and check the run beforehand.
“I scoped out a pretty big line but I’m the kind of skier that I don’t really want to go easy. I came all the way to Europe so I was definitely going to go for the win.”
He said he was nervous before his run, because of his knee, but once the adrenaline kicked in, it all went away.
“Right out of the start gate I hit air that nobody else did and I could just hear the stoke and everyone cheering behind me and that got me fueled up for the rest of my run.”
But there were some scary moments for the local skier. After hitting another big cliff he went up in the air and landed on his bad knee.
“I could feel it, just a little bit. A little bit of pain and I was like ‘OK, hold it together, hold it together, nice, next air’ that kind of thing just talking to myself … I pretty much talked my knee all the way through it.”
At the end of his run, Cooke knew he had hit every jump right.
“The crowd was going nuts and some guy ran up to me and tried to speak French to me and tried to interview me.”
Cooke doesn’t speak or understand French.
“I’ve skied a lot of competitions before, but I’ve never had such a good feeling as when I came through the finish line. I knew that was probably the best run I’ve ever skied.”
But Cooke had to sit and wait after his impressive performance. He was one of the earlier competitors and had to watch as about 90 more skiers try to beat his score.
None of them did.
Now back in BC, Cooke will remain in Nelson for a few weeks before heading out to New Mexico for another competition, followed by events in Castle Mountain in Alberta and the final competition in Big Sky, Montana.
His goal is to finish in the top three in North America in order to qualify for the world tour. The last time he checked, he was sitting in sixth place, but the rankings change rapidly as more races take place.
“In my mind, if I can podium in at least two of those comps, I think I have a pretty good shot at the world tour.”
As for his knee, he still feels the odd twinge, but he’s confident it will hold up.