In 2015, Swiss-Canadian skier Heidi Widmer moved from Canada to Switzerland. In 2016, she moved between the World Cup and the lower-tier Alpen Cup. Now she’s trying to figure out what’s next, while left rueing the difference that four-tenths of a second can make.
Widmer, now 25, skied strongly throughout the 2013/2014 season. She represented Canada in three races at the Sochi Olympics, won her first Canadian national championship, and won the season-long NorAm sprint title (Canada’s Continental Cup). But 2014/2015 was in many ways a step back for Widmer; her results suffered, and she failed to earn World Cup or World Championship starts.
“I was under recovered” throughout that season, Widmer told FasterSkier in May 2015, “and when your body is run down, it leads to other problems such as low iron and ferritin as well as sickness.”
Widmer was not re-named to the Canadian national team, but wanted to continue with high-level racing. Thanks to a Swiss-born father, and a sympathetic ally in coach Christian Flury (currently in Switzerland, but formerly with Widmer’s Canadian club, the Alberta World Cup Academy), Widmer successfully embarked on the process of using her dual citizenship to begin racing for Switzerland.
Positive results soon followed. Widmer gained World Cup starts at several weekends in the 2015/2016 season, qualifying for the heats in two out of five freestyle sprints she entered. She consistently placed in the teens on the Alpen Cup, and on the podium in Swiss Cup races. The move to trade the red-and-white maple leaf for the white-and-red Swiss cross seems to have served her well.
But vexillology aside, her most recent results are still somewhat vexing. Widmer finished 32nd in last Sunday’s skate sprint qualifier in Davos, 0.39 seconds away from making the heats and earning World Cup points. (Sprinting can be a cruel mistress: Widmer’s 32nd in qualifying placed her ahead of, among many others, Norway’s Heidi Weng, Ida Ingemarsdotter of Sweden, and American Kikkan Randall. All three have World Cup sprint wins on their résumés. Randall and Ingemarsdotter have World Championships sprint medals.)
Objectively speaking, that’s almost nothing, the difference between 5.95 seconds back from the qualifying winner, Jonna Sundling, and 6.34 seconds back. The literal blink of an eye. Less time than it takes a Major League fastball to reach home plate. But when it comes to World Cup-level racing, tiny margins can have a big impact.
“It’s really hard to say now” whether or not start rights for this year’s Tour de Ski are in her future, Widmer told FasterSkier in an in-person interview shortly after her qualifying effort. “Had I qualified today it would have been an easy decision, but who knows.”
Widmer added that she had “no idea, to be honest,” where she would be racing this coming weekend.
“I usually play my season one step in front of the other,” she said. “My first priority is to process today and if I am granted the opportunity and the privilege next weekend in La Clusaz for the relay I would be super stoked; I know that we want to start a team in the relay there so that is unfortunately not in my hands. If I don’t go there then I will be in Goms [Switzerland] again for COC Cup [Europa Cup], which is also super-good competition. So yeah … those decisions are above my reach. And then hopefully a Tour de Ski start.”
Widmer was disappointed with her result in Davos, but clear-eyed about the implications of 0.39 seconds at this level of competition. “[I] had really good feeling in my legs today,” she said in Davos. “I lacked that last little [bit]. 99.9 percent was there, but I lost a little; a little snap was missing. So I need to be really happy with what I put on the line today, but obviously super disappointed at the same time.”
She continued, “It’s the name of the game that we sign ourselves up for that all the ladies here are obviously super strong, and to know it can go one way” or the other. “Last year,” Widmer recalled, she was “so close on the other side of the fence in 29th qualifying … and I think there were more ladies on the start line this year, and that’s what we want to see.”
Stepping back to consider her season as a whole, Widmer was pleased that her training “has been really good.”
She added that she has found a challenging and complementary training group in her fellow Swiss skiers.
“I can say confidently that I have never trained so hard in my life and never challenged myself so much. Training with Nadine Fähndrich and Nathalie von Siebenthal is an incredible opportunity, those girls train really hard and have an incredible work ethic and professional take on the game. … We are all completely different personalities and we gel together really well. I think we challenge each other in ways that the other person can’t take the lead in and vice versa.”
In November, Widmer was getting in some early racing on farmed snow in Davos. She said at the time that her performance was “FAR off the mark!” and that “the fitness is not where it should be.” By early December, things had come around somewhat, and Widmer was winning the season’s first Swiss Cup race in Goms, posting the top qualifying time by 1.79 seconds in a three-minute sprint. But then came last weekend in Davos, and those missing 0.39 seconds.
“We want it to be a close game,” Widmer graciously told FasterSkier immediately after her just-short qualifying effort, “because we always – we all work so hard to be here.”
— Chelsea Little and Ian Tovell contributed reporting