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downhill skier racing

Retired Canmore Olympian Passes It Forward

Former Olympic skier Kelly VanderBeek, surprised Olympic hopeful Britt Richardson with a custom-designed helmet

Many of us never get the chance to meet our idols, but Canmore’s 20-year-old ski superstar Britt Richardson had the honour of meeting hers. 

Last month, Richardson was thrilled when retired Olympian Kelly VanderBeek presented the up-and-coming athlete with a custom-designed helmet.

VanderBeek is a retired alpine skier from Kitchener, Ontario. Over the course of her athletic career, she racked up some impressive awards. This includes three World Cup medals and fourth place in the Super-G event at the 2006 Winter Olympics. She retired in 2013, in part due to a serious knee injury in 2009.

Now, Vanderbeek lives in Canmore and works as a broadcaster for CBC News

She also spent five years as a host and broadcaster for the Calgary Stampede. When she isn’t broadcasting stories, she’s telling them through photography and art. Many of VanderBeek’s paintings have been included in curated exhibits. 

But her latest piece of art, a Canmore-inspired helmet, was personally designed for Richardson. 

Kelly VanderBeek (left) with Britt Richardson (right) posing with the Canmore-inspired helmet | Rocky Mountain Outlook

The helmet portrays Canmore’s Three Sisters, which smoothly transitions into a bold red maple leaf and includes Richardson’s favourite shade of blue, adding even more personal flair to the design.  

VanderBeek spent eight weeks working tirelessly to make sure the helmet was perfect for Richardson. 

“I look back to being the skier I am today, and I think, first of all, my family and my background of being from Canmore is what has brought me there,” Richardson told the Rocky Mountain Outlook

Even as she handed the helmet to the young athlete, VanderBeek pulled out a needle to pick off an imperfection she spotted. But she knows the helmet is bound for the slopes, not a gallery. 

“I kind of laughed to myself because, for lack of a better term, she’s gonna go and take it on a course and beat the shit out of it,” VanderBeek explained. 

“That’s exactly what she’s supposed to do. I was like that. When I handed it off to her, I said, ‘Just so you know, you are precious, but this helmet isn’t precious. Go and beat the crap out of it and be a ski racer and have fun,’” she continued. 

If any skier can carry VanderBeek’s torch, it’s Richardson. 

She is one of Canada’s best technical skiers and already has World Cup medals. This includes bronze in mixed team parallel at the 2023 FIS World Ski Championships, alongside fellow Canmorites Erik Read, Jeff Read, and Valérie Grenier from Ontario. 

In the final, Richardson and her team toppled the ski heavyweights of Austria.

On the podium, they wore the same uniform, the only difference in gear being their helmets. Eager to make her mark on the slopes, Richardson reached out to VanderBeek to create a personalized helmet. 

“It’s a way I can stand out and show something that is special to me on the hill, which I think is really cool,” commented Richardson.

VanderBeek, who has known the Richardson family since before Britt was born, was delighted to accept the request. She used one of Richardson’s old helmets as a ‘canvas’ to practice air-brushing. But to create the perfect helmet, she needed some help. Her first phone call was to her friend David Arrigo.

Britt Richardson tearing down the slope at the World Cup season opener in Sölden, Austria wearing her new helmet | Alpine Canada

Arrigo, who designs goalie masks for NHL players, reassured VanderBeek that her designs would not compromise the helmet’s safety. Next, she turned to local businesses in the Bow Valley, like CanSign for sponsor stickers and Fix Auto Bow Valley for the helmet’s final clear coat. 

In a touching moment, VanderBeek handed off the helmet to Richardson with a stunning view of the Three Sisters behind them.

Richardson hit the slopes at the World Cup season opener wearing her new helmet. VanderBeek hopes the helmet will remind Richardson of her community and give her the push she needs.

“That’s why I put so much time and investment into creating this for her because I recognized the meaning behind designing a helmet and painting a helmet. It goes beyond that. It is a connection to your home, to your community, and it’s a connection to what you value,” explained VanderBeek. 

Every time Richardson competes now, she won’t be alone. She will be speeding down the slopes alongside VanderBeek and the Bow Valley community that helped bring the helmet to life.

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