Karen Lynne Percy Lowe, CM, alpine skier (born 10 October 1966 in Edmonton, AB). Karen Percy won two bronze medals for Canada at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary. She medalled in the women’s downhill and the women’s super-giant slalom. She won silver in women’s downhill at the 1989 World Alpine Skiing Championships and five World Cup alpine skiing medals. She also won seven Canadian championships in six years. She is a Member of the Order of Canada and has been inducted into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame and Museum, the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Childhood and Family
Karen Percy is one of four children of Heather and Gerry Percy. She was born in Edmonton and began skiing at age five. Her parents often took the family to Banff, Alberta, on the weekends. The family moved to Banff when Karen was in Grade 3. Gerry was a school principal and then a district superintendent. Following the move to Banff, Karen joined the Banff Ski Runners and the Nancy Greene League at Mount Norquay. (See also Nancy Greene Raine.)
All of Heather and Gerry’s children skied competitively. However, the expensive training costs for alpine skiing came at a price. Karen’s parents had to put a second mortgage on their house while Karen earned money in the summer by pressing shirts and bussing tables at A&W.
In Grade 10, Karen dropped out of school to focus on skiing and training. A major part of her training was jogging from the family chalet home in Banff to Mount Norquay. She later graduated from high school through correspondence studies.
Karen Percy started skiing professionally at age 12. Unlike many skiers today, who typically specialize in one or two disciplines, she competed in all of the alpine skiing events as a teenager. According to the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame and Museum, her first notable achievement came at age 15, when she won the silver medal in the girls’ downhill at the 1981 Canadian Juvenile Championships at Fortress Mountain, Alberta.
In 1983, Percy competed in her first of seven consecutive Canadian National Alpine Skiing Championships. She finished fifth in the super-giant slalom and sixth in the downhill.
In 1984, Percy joined the Canadian National Women’s Alpine Ski Team. That same year, she won a Europa Cup downhill race in Valzoldana, Italy. She added a silver medal in another Europa Cup downhill race in Valzoldana and a bronze medal in a Europa Cup women’s super-giant slalom event in Verbier, Switzerland.
First World Cup Podium
Percy’s first career World Cup medal came at Sunshine Village, Alberta, near Karen’s hometown of Banff on 3 March 1986. She placed third in the women’s downhill with a time of 1:33.44. She finished 18th in the 1986 World Cup downhill standings and was the third-best Canadian. Also in 1986, Percy won the women’s downhill and super-giant slalom at the Canadian National Alpine Skiing Championships.
Leading up to the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary
In 1987, Percy once again was the third best Canadian in the World Cup downhill standings, ranking 20th overall. Percy also showed promise in other disciplines, ranking fifth in the World Cup standings in the combined and 14th in the super-giant slalom. The 20-year-old had five top-10 finishes in World Cup events.
Heading into the 1988 Olympics, Percy had two podium finishes in Switzerland. She won bronze in the women’s combined in Leukerbad on 13 December 1987 and silver in the women’s downhill in Zinal on 14 January 1988.
1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary
Team Canada did not win a gold medal in an event with full Olympic status at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary but did win five medals. Percy was Canada’s only multi-medalist at the Games. She won bronze in the women’s downhill on 19 February, posting a time of 1:26.62, reaching the podium by 0.27 seconds over Maria Walliser of Switzerland. Marina Kiehl of Germany won the gold medal with a time of 1:25.86, and Brigitte Ortli of Switzerland won silver with a time of 1:26.61, only one one-hundredth of a second faster than Percy.
She won a second bronze medal in the women’s super-giant slalom on 22 February. Percy’s third-place time was 1:20.29, reaching the podium by 0.04 seconds over Regine Moesenlechner of Germany. Sigrid Wolf of Austria won the gold medal with a time of 1:19.03, while Michela Figini of Switzerland won the silver medal with a time of 1:20.03. Percy also just missed the podium in the women’s alpine combined on 21 February, finishing fourth.
The two medals were especially impressive considering Percy had thumb surgery one month earlier.
Following the 1988 Olympics, Percy won two more World Cup medals. She won a silver medal in the women’s combined in Grindelwald, Switzerland, on 15 January 1989, and a bronze medal in the women’s downhill in Panorama, British Columbia, on 16 December 1989.
Percy won her first and only World Championship medal in Vail, Colorado, on 5 February 1989, finishing second in the women’s downhill. Percy also won three more gold medals at the National Championships, in the super-giant slalom and giant slalom in Panorama in 1988, and in the giant slalom at Lake Louise, Alberta, in 1989.
In 1990, Percy married NHL defenseman and future Hockey Hall of Famer Kevin Lowe. They have four children together, daughters Devyn, Darby and Karly, and son Keegan. Percy is also a stepmother to Lowe’s son, Shane, from a prior relationship.
Karen Percy Lowe has been active with several charities and grassroots organizations. She and her husband have been long-time trustees of Waterkeeper Alliance, which works to protect and increase fresh water supplies in Canada. Percy Lowe also founded North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper, which helps preserve the North Saskatchewan River, Edmonton’s primary source of water. She has also been active with the Zebra Foundation, Compassion House and the Go Community Centre in Edmonton.
Karen Percy Lowe was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1988. She was inducted into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame and Museum in 1992, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1994, the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 2000, the Banff Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Bow Valley Sports Hall of Fame in 2017.