10/11/2012 05:27 EDT | Updated 12/11/2012 05:12 EST

Olympic ski-cross champ Ashleigh McIvor on comeback trail after knee surgery

TORONTO - Gone are the days when Canada's Ashleigh McIvor was a rising star in the burgeoning sport of ski cross.

McIvor and her sport arrived in a big way at the Vancouver Games in 2010 after she took the gold when ski cross made its Olympic debut. At 29, she's a veteran now and will soon be returning to the circuit after missing over a full season with a left knee injury.

McIvor hopes to be ready in time for the season opener at Nakiska, Alta., on Dec. 8. Nerves may be an issue when she returns after the long break, but she doesn't expect the jitters to last.

"I would say usually once I've gotten through the first race, I usually do pretty well at it and then I'm like, 'Oh OK, I've got this. I'm fine,'" she said with a laugh.

The Whistler, B.C., native hasn't competed since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in January 2011. She was hurt during a training run on the eve of the X Games, just a week before the world championships.

She suffered the same injury to the same knee in 2005. Doctors removed scar tissue and cleaned the joint surfaces last spring and she was back training this summer to get ready for the season.

McIvor will be joined by reigning world champion Kelsey Serwa of Kelowna, B.C., on the powerful Canadian women's team. Serwa is also coming back after a knee injury.

Calgary's Danielle Poleschuk and last year's breakout star, 19-year-old Marielle Thompson of Whistler, round out the early women's roster. The full team is set to be announced Dec. 3.

"We're the best team in the world and we've got some great up and comers that are looking promising and a few athletes returning from injuries," McIvor said. "So it should be a good one."

The rough-and-tumble style of ski cross is tough on the body. Crashes and tumbles are the norm due to the challenging jumps, rollers and close proximity to other racers.

McIvor estimates some finished jumps can be about 150 feet from takeoff to landing.

"It's insane," she said. "It's like the width of a football field."

Like many athletes on the ski-cross tour, McIvor started off in alpine before moving to the freestyle side. She has been spent about a decade in the sport and her list of athletic accomplishments is long.

While she was out with her knee injury, McIvor kept busy by speaking at corporate functions, visiting schools and taking part in charity fundraisers.

She's also not shy in front of a camera.

McIvor has done some modelling work, appeared on magazine covers and cracked the "Most Beautiful Athlete" lists for several publications.

"It's been great. A lot of opportunities have presented themselves obviously since the Olympics, for myself as an athlete and for the sport of ski cross," she said. "We obviously saw massive exposure there and people really, really liked it.

"It really caught on. It's really gained a lot of momentum."

McIvor said she makes a point to not look too far down the road. She isn't sure whether she will try to defend her Olympic title at the 2014 Games in Sochi.

"We'll see. I'm actually really bad at planning and setting realistic goals or anything," she said. "I never in a million years dreamed that I would win the Olympics. I rarely thought about that Olympic medal (before the Games).

"I really do take everything one step at a time. ... We'll see how I feel going into this season. Once my knee is strong and ready to go, we'll see if the mental side comes back."

Canada's ski-cross team has won the Nations' Cup as the top team on the World Cup circuit for four consecutive years.

Reigning X-Games champion Chris Del Bosco of Montreal anchors the solid men's team. He's joined by Calgary's Brady Leman, Dave Duncan of London, Ont., and Tristan Tafel of Canmore, Alta.

Head coach Eric Archer is back and assistant coaches Willy Raine and Brent Kehl are also returning to the team.

McIvor looked refreshed and energized Thursday as she took part in a Tourism British Columbia event at a downtown intersection.

She said she's happy to be back in full preparation mode for the upcoming season.

"A big part of it for me is I feel I have a responsibility to help these up and comers," she said. "That's why I've been on the scene and training with the team all summer. All I can do is my best and I try not to get too hung up on the end result that I'm after.

"I focus more on the journey."