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Kelsey Serwa’s journey from growing up on Big White to gold at the Olympics

Kelsey is the grand-daughter of Big White co-founder Cliff Serwa
Kelsey Serwa and her gold medal she won in ski-cross at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. (BC Sports Hall of Fame)

This is part of a series of stories celebrating the 60th anniversary of Big White Ski Resort

The roots of the Serwa family have only grown throughout the years at Big White Ski Resort.

As Cliff Serwa co-founded the resort and the family-owned Serwa Bulldozing (now Serwa Excavating Ltd.), the family name continued to grow. Eventually, Cliff’s granddaughter, Kelsey Serwa came along and has become one of the biggest names associated with the resort.

“It was always a fun place for our families to go together,” said Kelsey. “There’s a lot of nostalgia I associate with Big White.”

She and her family would spend every weekend at the resort during the winter as well as a lot of time during the summers as her dad took over the family excavation company, which has been around since 1948. Kelsey and her siblings would sometimes get picked up early from school on Fridays and she and her family would sometimes wait until Monday morning to leave because they wanted to see if they would get snowed in to have another day at the mountain.

“Big White was always our second home we’d escape to,” added Kelsey. “The running joke in the family is that all of us Serwa kids learnt how to ski before we could walk.”

Kelsey would ski with her parents, siblings, cousins, and friends as well as joining the Nancy Greene Ski League club team at the mountain when she was six years old.

While her parents and grandparents never grew up ski racing it was the family construction company that led her and her siblings to the mountain’s racing program. One year, Serwa Bulldozing was tasked with digging the foundation for the new ski club cabin. As part of the exchange, Kelsey and her siblings received free ski lessons for a year, leading them all to love the ski and race program. Because the three of them fell in love with the sport, Kelsey added her parents joke that digging that foundation was ‘the most expensive basement they ever dug.’

Kelsey always thought of herself as a middle-of-the-pack racer but credits the group she raced with growing up to help advance her career.

“I was fortunate that I grew up in a really strong and competitive group of young women in the Okanagan,” said Kelsey. “Because of the commodity and the friendships we had, we really pushed each other. A lot of us together went from our club teams and progressed to the Okanagan team (with Apex and Silverstar), and then proceeded to a provincial team and then onto the national team from there.”

For Kelsey, everything also clicked when she made a change in her career.

“The moment when I realized I could make a career out of this was when I made the transition from alpine racing to freestyle skiing to ski cross in 2008,” said Kelsey.

Out of the various types of skiing, something about ski-cross just connected with Kelsey.

“When I found ski-cross, it was something that I think my values aligned with the values of the sport,” she added. “I loved how dynamic it was and it’s one of those things where you prepare for the worst, and hope for the best but there’s so many variables and scenarios that can unfold in front of you. A lot of it is based off of reaction and that’s where my strengths existed.”

A few months before the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler, the Canadian national team had five ski-cross racers to fill four spots. At just 20 years old, Kelsey made one of those four spots, giving her the chance to compete at the highest stage in front of her home province and country. .

Like any winter sports athlete, she dealt with injuries throughout her career and eventually weighed the options but always knew she wanted to come back.

“The first few injuries were fine because it felt like a right of passage but by the third one I was like ‘OK, we need to start weighing the pros and cons’,” she said. “I’m a big believer skiing is a life-long sport to anticipate.”

She got the chance to compete in three Winter Olympics - Vancouver 2010, Sochi 2014, and Pyeongchang 2018. In 2014, she won a silver medal in ski cross behind her teammate Marielle Thompson. In 2018, she reached the top of the sport, winning gold in the event.

“Favourite moment of my career is definitely winning the gold medal beside my teammate Britt (Brittany Phelan), who came in second,” said Kelsey. “It was the end of my career, I had grown so much as an athlete from the 2010 games to the 2018 games and went through a lot of injuries and adversity and it was a very nice way to wrap things up, a cherry on top of the sundae.”

She retired from the sport after that and has been a full-time student since, but still tries to ski whenever she gets the chance.

The now 34-year-old is currently in Vancouver finishing her Masters in physiology.

Over the years, Kelsey realizes more and more how much Big White means to her and her family.

“It’s very much an honour and a privilege to spend so much time growing up at Big White, it being a big piece that’s defined my life as a person, athlete, student, and as a professional moving forward,” said Kelsey. “When you’re young, it’s easy to take advantage of those things and as I get older I appreciate more and more my roots and especially with Cliff, looking at what he did with Doug. It’s always a place I’m proud to call home.”

Jordy Cunningham

About the Author: Jordy Cunningham

Hailing from Ladner, B.C., I have been passionate about sports, especially baseball, since I was young. In 2018, I graduated from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops with a Bachelor of Journalism degree
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