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Calgary family chasing World Cup downhill dreams in 2021

Coen Skrypnek is aiming to race a full calendar of international events after the cancelled 2020 season

Photo by: Zane Simmonds

2020’s cancelled races threw many racers plans into disarray. One Canadian family, though, is doing everything it can to get on track and get to this year’s World Cups. They just might need a bit of help to do it.

Coen Skrypnek is headed into his first year of junior, a crucial year for young downhill racers. With the expenses of travel to races and equipment, it is a year where he could attract the attention of the major teams. If he does, he’ll be following in the foot steps of several Canadian riders that have pulled contracts out of first year junior results. Elliot Jamieson, Lucas Cruz, Patrick Laffey and Seth Sherlock all turned World Cup results into better support. For Skrypnek to do the same, he needs to get to the races first.

I talked with Coen’s father, Mike Skrypnek, about the families plans for the year, and why they’ve started a GoFundMe to help support Coen’s racing campaign. Mike and Coen will also be leading a  Q&A online Thursday, answering questions for other families interested in racing and more extreme sports, based the former Calgary, Alta-based families experience getting into mountain biking.

Coen Skrypnek. Photo: Zane Simmonds

Chasing the Dream from Calgary to Squamish to the World Cup

While Coen Skrypnek is going into his first year of World Cup racing, the family is a decade into the racing project. What started as riding on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, quickly turned into a family interest in racing.

“When we lived in Calgary, we were driving out to Moose Mountain every weekend while the kids were still 8 or 9 years old,” says Mike Skrypnek. Both Coen and his older sister Madison – who would go on to earn a national championship title and race world championships in 2019 – brought the family into the sport.

That led to the first trips to Whistler, when Coen was still 11, for the Summer Gravity Camps. The family returned ever year, staying long each time until, in 2018, they made the move full time to Squamish from Calgary.

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It was at those camps where Coen first met some of the riders that would inspire his direction in racing, including the great Steve Smith. The late Canadian has inspired Coen’s growth both on and off the race track.

“He met Stevie Smith a couple times, and he always looked up to him. In our early days at Crankworx, we got to meet all the big name riders. What he really enjoyed were the ones that made time for him, and that made a big impression. Coen wants to continue to pay that back,” shares Mike. That means more than racing. Coen also coaches and mentors younger athletes. “Coaching is a great way to earn a little bit of money,” adds Mike, “But it’s a great way to ride and to help others see that success is possible.”

Coen currently balances training and coaching with Grade 11 studies, where he’s excelling with an over 90 per cent average. While the family has gone all in on racing, Mike’s clear that school is always a central part of that equation.

Coen racing the Canadian Open Downhill in 2019. Photo: OneCut Media /Rick Melhoff

Success before support

The Skrypnek’s are putting in a big push for the 2021 season in the hopes of attracting the attention of big teams. They’re not going in blind, though. While there was no racing in 2020, Coen finished second overall in the BC Cup downhill series in U17’s in 2019.

BC Cup and Dunbar Summer Series, Mike says, has proven a solid indicator, and driver of Canadian downhill talent in years past. “These are some of the absolute best series you can get to as a racer. I don’t think enough Canadians recognize how high the level is at these races.”

Still, it’s Europe where the big team’s attentions lie.

“I think for Canadian riders in particular, it’s so important to, for one, give the riders the opportunity to show they can compete on that level, and catch the eye of factory teams. Travel costs are huge, and lots of privateers struggle to get to World Cups because, financially, it’s such a burden. And second, it’s an opportunity for the rider to see where they stand and to find out what they need to work on, or to understand if they’re ready for that level.”

And, Mike adds, “Because it is fun to compete, to push yourself against the world’s best.”

Coen has had support in the past from Kona. That continues into 2021, with the team supplying a bike, race support and some equipment in line with the team’s sponsors. But, with the Kona Gravity Team appearing to shift its focus to the Enduro World Series its support for a downhill racer is limited. Dharco is on board for clothing, and the family has some ongoing support from Squamish’s Shift Wellness, Tantalus Bike Shop and Fountain Tire in Calgary. Travel costs, though remain huge. That’s where the GoFundMe comes in.

“At 16, going on 17, this is going to be a capital intensive year,” says Mike adding that, with the calendar stretched out over six months, and the added complications of travel right now, “I can’t send Coen on his own.”

Coen Skrypnek training through a Squamish winter. Hpoto. Mike Skrypnek

Family and Extreme Sports

When the Skrypnek’s first got deep into mountain bike racing, travelling across the province to chase the BC Cup and Dunbar Series, it was an entirely new world. “From Calgary, no one did what we did. Here in Squamish, everyone does, but we came from a place where it wasn’t what people were doing,” says Mike.

It was the other parents that helped them deal with injuries, travel, and all the other unexpected twists of extreme racing.

Mike and Coen are running a Q&A on Thursday, February 11 to share their experiences with other families who might have similar questions. The session will cover, Mike says, “What it means to be involved in this crazy mountain bike life.”

“We were a family that went all in – from ‘our kids like mountain biking, what is that?’ to ‘are we crazy doing all this travel'”

There’s a performance element as well. You don’t get to be fast and hold down an honours average without some effort. Mike will also talk about what he calls the “process of mastery,” and how that develops in athletes from a young age.

You can support Coen’s racing goals at the family’s GoFundMe. Info on the father-son Q&A is online here.