NAKISKA, Alta. - Olympic women's ski cross champion Ashleigh McIvor may have retired, but the Canadian women still have weapons heading into the next Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
"Fierce," is Kelsey Serwa's description of the women's team.
"We'll be a force to be reckoned with for sure," the reigning world champion said Thursday following training for the season's first World Cup. "We're all good at different things and we all work together and push each other and help each other out."
McIvor announced her retirement last month, but hadn't actually competed since injuring her knee in January, 2011.
During her absence, Serwa from Kelowna, B.C., won the women's world title that year. Marielle Thompson of Whistler, B.C., then became the first Canadian to capture an overall World Cup title in ski cross.
The 20-year-old Thompson won gold in three races and landed on the podium in another three last season.
"Last year, I took it race to race and didn't get too excited over the results and didn't get too ahead of myself," Thompson said. "I'm going to keep with that tactic and hopefully it works out for me."
The Audi FIS World Cup at Nakiska Mountain Resort west of Calgary will include 190 racers from 25 countries racing for $30,000 in prize money.
In ski cross, four skiers race each other down a course of jumps and bumps. The qualification rounds are Friday followed by Saturday's finals at the ski hill in Kananaskis.
"History says we do well at home," head coach Eric Archer said. "The length of this course is definitely an advantage this early in the season because it's going to be a leg-burner. It's going to a minute and 10 seconds long, so it's a bit longer than average.
"We'll see what other teams did over the summer."
Calgary's Danielle Sundquist, Georgia Simmerling of West Vancouver, B.C., and Mariannick Therer of Saint-Saveur, Que., will join Thompson and Serwa in the women's field.
Calgary's Brady Leman, who was second in the overall men's rankings last season, Dave Duncan of London, Ont., Tristan Tafel of Canmore, Alta., Ian Deans of Kelowna B.C., Mathieu Leduc of Comox, B.C., and former alpine team racer Louis-Pierre Helie of Berthierville, Que., will represent Canada in the men's race.
World men's champion Chris Del Bosco of Montreal is sidelined for a few weeks following shoulder surgery. He was injured while training at Nakiska last month.
The Canadians will race in new suits paying tribute to former teammate Nik Zoricic. He died at age 29 of head injuries sustained in a crash during the final World Cup of the season in Grindelwald, Switzerland last March.
"It was a horrible ending to last season," Archer said. "We get back on it and get back in the routine, keep Nik with us and do what we do.
"This year is unique because of the ending last season. For us, to get this under our belt and get through it, it's going to be a big relief."
Thompson's first career World Cup victory was in Canada at Ontario's Blue Mountain in February.
"I know on Blue Mountain when I first won, hearing all the people cheering before going over the last jump is just an amazing feeling," Thompson said. "I'd love to have it again for sure."
Serwa won a pair of World Cups and led the overall standings last winter prior to a season-ending knee injury in January. Thompson stepped into the breach for Canada in Serwa's absence.
"Having those two leading the other girls . . . they take care of each other," Archer said. "If we keep them healthy through the season they're going to be strong at the end of the season."
Serwa finished fifth at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, while teammate McIvor claimed the first gold medal awarded in the sport. Serwa developed alongside McIvor and is now a veteran on the team at just 23.
"She was the leader on the team when I got there, right?" Serwa said. "Of course we've missed her the last two years, but I think she's really happy with her decision to retire. She's engaged and getting married."
Serwa will race for the first time at Nakiska since her knee injury.
"I'm not focused too much on results," Serwa said. "I'm focused on the process and how I'm going to get back on top."