The next great Olympic skier could be in Penticton right now.
It’s only been six months but a new Apex-based ski program, featuring athletes from as close as West Kelowna to as far as New South Wales, Australia, has already made its mark on the global stage.
Kristi Richards, a Penticton-born Olympian and World Cup gold medalist, launched KR Academy in late September and has since propelled 40 youth athletes to local, national and international stardom at more than a dozen events.
“To be able to give back so candidly in this way has been amazing,” Richards said. “For me personally, I’ve been on the road for six weeks straight, touring and coaching the athletes.
“We’re building good humans and we’re building superstars.”
It’s been like a blast from the past for Richards since September, who once competed for Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy and captured multiple medals at select international events.
Her days of long road trips have returned. In a six-week span from February to the beginning of April, Richards guided the Apex-based athletes to compete in places like Utah, Vermont, Ontario, Quebec and across B.C.
“It’s almost like doing it all over again for me,” Richards said with a laugh.
If finishing on the podium was a test, then skiers from Richards’ academy are passing with flying colours.
Richards says that 90 per cent of her freestyle skiers who appeared at the most recent BC Champs competing in Vernon skied to top-three finishes.
Since opening at Apex last year, KR Academy has spawned new stars like Alex Luca, Quinn Patton, Kareema Wakim, Emilia Oziewicz, Trent Walkley and Leda Walker.
Richards adds that Francesca Farcau, an 11-year-old skier from West Kelowna, finishes on the podium regularly against 14-year-olds.
“She is a phenom.”
Richards credits her brother, Mike Richards, and Cole Patton for helping launch the new academy.
“It’s amazing to see that whole families are picking up and now moving to the Okanagan because of the amount of training we’re doing,” Richards said. “We’ve been working with athletes from Ontario, Quebec, United States and we actually had a large international contingency from Australia come during their break in December and January.”
When it comes to long days of training, Richards isn’t joking.
She says skiers from KR Academy will be out of the slopes for 11 months of the year.
“We’re chasing the snow.”
That means going to hills in Alberta and Washington State, among others, from now until September 2023.
Richards and the new crop of local stars will return to Apex next season.
“Apex is such a hidden little gem in my eyes,” she said. “It’s so good to be home.”