In 2022, Ali qualified for and competed in her first Olympic Games in Beijing, “It was a really cool experience. Definitely very stressful, not just because it was the Olympics, but because of COVID. I had never been to the Olympics, but hearing from my teammates about the things we were not allowed to do, not getting to have family there, and taking multiple tests leading up made it stressful. But once we got there it was a really cool experience.” But she insights that in spite of any and all COVID precautions, it still felt like “the” Olympics. From being on the hill to intermingling with other athletes, it was a surreal experience, “At the beginning of the year after my first couple of races, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make the Olympics,” says Ali. To qualify — with the additional hurdle of avoiding COVID — was beyond gratifying for her.
In regards to traveling to train and compete so far away from home, Ali says that she’s fairly used to it, although for the games, she only got to fly in a handful of days before. “Usually we would be there a week or two before we would compete — ideally,” she says. On top of the long travel time and time zone acclimation period, the logistics post-arrival in Beijing took longer than normal, once again due to COVID precautions. “It’s taxing and hard mentally, and then you get there and you’re excited and want to explore, and you have to manage that too,” she says about traveling to the games. It’s a juggling act of emotions and skills that Ali has learned rather quickly with every new experience she gains. She prioritized getting settled in and making the hotel room feel as much “like home” as possible, saying, “we all have different things that make it feel homier.” These routines have helped Ali adapt her body to changing sleep and meal schedules as she travels.
But travel and COVID aside, Ali used her training days in Beijing to adjust to the snow itself more than anything,“the snow in Beijing was a little bit different than what we’re used to. It was all man-made snow. It was very aggressive and unpredictable. Sometimes it would grab your skis and engage really quickly and sometimes it did nothing. So it was hard across the board for all the athletes to figure out that type of snow.” By comparison, the overwhelming majority of hills that alpine skiers race on are mostly — if not completely — natural snow. Looking back she says, “it wasn’t bad by any means. It was just different and definitely new for all of us.” Due to COVID, there wasn’t the traditionally large crowd you would expect to see at the Olympics. But Ali says that that didn’t detract from the intensity of her experience at all, “there was definitely still nerves. I think I did an okay job of handling the nerves, but it got to me a little bit,” she chuckles. “I feel like at the start is when it hit me. I took some deep breaths, and focused on the skiing and brought it back to ‘it’s just another race.’”
Ali and her team were in close proximity to the bobsled and luge athletes in the Olympic Village. She says there wasn’t necessarily one sport whose athletes felt more intense over another, “it was more individuals that seemed to be more intense or more relaxed.” Outside of spending time with her team, Ali really enjoyed spending time with Jill Officer, a Canadian curling athlete who won the gold in both Sochi and PyeongChang. “We were watching curling with her and it was really cool to talk to her about curling, about ice conditions and how a couple degrees difference can make a difference in how the rock slides. She was really cool to get to know.”
In the end, Ali placed 21st in women’s slalom, and is keen on what’s to come.