This is part of a series of stories celebrating the 60th anniversary of Big White Ski Resort
From Prince George to Big White, to the Olympics, Tess Critchlow has done a lot in the early years of her life.
The now 28-year-old is retired from competing competitively in snowboard cross but her journey started at Big White Ski Resort.
“When I was five years old, we moved to Big White and that was the first time I got actual lessons,” said Critchlow. “My whole adolescence was moving around a lot and unique.”
Like many kids who grow up on the mountain, Critchlow went to school, which featured half-days on Thursdays and Fridays off.
“I got to snowboard to school and snowboard home,” Critchlow laughed.
After a year of living on the mountain, she competed for the first time and instantly felt a connection to the sport.
“My first competition at six, that definitely got me hooked,” said Critchlow. “My parents encouraged me to get into competition, to set goals because of how much we loved it. I got to compete with my brother which was really fun. Being in that atmosphere was really cool.”
Over the years, Critchlow never thought of it as a sport and more second nature because most everyone skis or snowboards on the mountain.
“It was a bit freedom for me and my brother, we would go out on the hill on our own and our dad would give us a radio to touch base,” said Critchlow. “It wasn’t really a thought process of ‘am I going to do this?’ It was just something you did with family and friends.”
“A couple years after being there, the whole mountain feels like home to you.”
Things really clicked for Critchlow in 2010 during a surprise trip to Vancouver.
“My dad bought us tickets to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and we watched Mäelle Ricker win gold and that’s when I was like ‘This is where I want to be’,” states Critchlow. “It wasn’t on the radar before that but once we got to be there, be in the atmosphere, and watch her win, that was a huge moment.”
Critchlow got to meet Ricker shortly thereafter, who helped her out in her young career. Over the years, Ricker became one of Critchlow’s coaches.
At 14 years old, Critchlow made the B.C. snowboard cross team and started to travel. Despite being too young to compete, she got invited to attend the Junior World Championships in New Zealand that year and partake in the practice runs.
In the 2012-13 season, Critchlow became the overall Nor-Am Cup snowboard cross champion and made her World Cup debut late in that year in Blue Mountain, Ontario. A few years later in the 2015-16 season, she broke out to three top-10 finishes and broke into the top 10 World Cup standings. She eventually stood on the World Cup podium for the first time in 2017, when she won bronze at an event in Veysonnaz, Switzerland. She went on to win two more medals that season.
Because of her streak of success, she made the Canadian Olympic team for the first time in 2018, when the games took place in PyeongChang.
“It was crazy,” said Critchlow. “We get the call like a month or two before the games so leading into it at that point, being on the national team, you know where you are in your points and you kind of know before you get the call that you’ve made it but that doesn’t make the phone call and email any less exciting when you actually get to see your name listed. Having that be a goal since I was so young and seeing my name, it was surreal, the whole first experience in 2018 was surreal. I tried to enjoy it and not think too much.”
At those games, she was Canada’s top-ranked woman in snowboard cross, finishing ninth overall.
Like most snow-based athletes, Critchlow suffered a severe knee injury when she was getting ready for the 2020-21 season. She overshot a jump, resulting in a torn ACL, a partially torn MCL, and a ruptured meniscus, resulting in surgery.
After recovering and rehabbing from the injury, Critchlow returned like she never left, finishing seventh at a World Cup event at Secret Garden, China in Nov. 2021.
She went on to make the Olympic team in 2022 as well, where she finished sixth overall.
After the Olympics, she decided to retire from competing competitively.
“It was time for me,” she said.
Critchlow still snowboards all the time and all around B.C., but Big White will always mean the world to her.
“Big White is everything,” said Critchlow. “It’s the place I would call home the most out of everywhere and I’ve been and lived in a lot of places but the community up there has remained and they’ve all been so supportive whether it when I was young and couldn’t really snowboard to getting to be an Olympian, they haven’t changed. It’s so nice to have that as a home and be able to go back there. They’ve provided all the opportunities I need to get to where I got to.”
Critchlow tries to give back to the resort as well by helping out with events around the mountain.