With 433 days until the first Olympic medals in halfpipe skiing are awarded, the Whistler-based Canadian national team is set to take the next step towards Sochi on Friday (Dec. 14).
The team will compete in the first-ever event counting as an Olympic qualifier during the iON Mountain Championships in Breckenridge, Colo., the lone winter Dew Tour stop this season.
But aside from head coach Trennon Paynter, who skied moguls for Australia at Salt Lake City in 2002, the Olympics are uncharted territory for the Canadian athletes, who can feel the pressure starting to build.
ďThis is the first event in all their lives that can start to earn them an Olympic spot. This is pressure these athletes havenít felt before,Ē Paynter said of Fridayís competition in a release. ďIím trying to make sure they focus on this event and not look too far into the future.Ē
But a quick look into the recent past shows that the squad is heading in the right direction.
Reigning FIS menís world champion Mike Riddle, who admittedly had a rough season in 2011-12, now has a mini win-streak going. The 26-year-old won the World Ski Invitational superpipe event in Whistler to close last winter, and took top spot in Sundayís (Dec. 9) North Face Pipe and Park Open Series event at Copper Mountain, Colo. to start this season.
Riddle perfected a double flatspin 720 over the summer that should help him take a run at a third-straight win at Breckenridge, but the Squamish resident is trying not to let nerves get the best of him this week.
ďItís a pretty scary trick for me because itís pretty blind Ö but if I do land it properly in competition, Iím sure it will be podium-worthy,Ē said Riddle. ďIím really trying not to get psyched out, just trying to focus on staying in the here and now and not getting ahead of myself.Ē
Whistler resident Justin Dorey, the AFP Tour pipe champ two winters ago, X Games silver medallist Noah Bowman and Matt Margetts, who was fourth on Sunday, are all podium threats themselves and will fly the Canadian flag at the Dew Tour stop. Dorey told Freeskier this week that heíll have a new trick to break out this season as well.
Rosalind Groenewoud took home both womenís X Games gold medals last season and wrapped up an AFP superpipe title, dedicating her performances to late friend and teammate Sarah Burke.
If the Games were to start today, Groenewoud would be an easy pick for the podium and one of the favourites for gold. But the Squamish resident will have nerves of her own to conquer on Friday as well.
ďIím feeling pretty good, but I am nervous ó Iím always nervous and excited to get into the pipe at a competition,Ē she said.
Canadian teammates Keltie Hansen and Megan Gunning, both medallists at past FIS world championships, join Groenewoud in competition this week.
It was Burkeís tireless efforts in life that helped make freestyle ski disciplines Olympic sports, and sheíll no doubt be in the back of the Canadian skiersí minds throughout the lead-up to Sochi next winter. But nearly a year since her tragic fatal accident, it appears that Burkeís influence continues to have a far-reaching impact ó the Copper Mountain pipe was swarmed with up-and-coming girls while the national team spent the past week training there.
ďItís kind of cool because itís what I hoped after the Olympic announcement, that more girls would come to the pipe, and itís coming true,Ē said Groenewoud.
Slopestyle finals at Breckenridge are scheduled for Sunday (Dec. 16) and the Canadian contingent will be a big factor. Kaya Turski, who was undefeated last season, leads a womenís team that also features Dara Howell and Kim Lamarre into the Dew Tour event. The menís side boasts a strong crew of skiers as well, with T.J. Schiller, Vincent Gagnier, Noah Morrison, Jaimieson Irvine, Alex Beaulieu-Marchand, Alexi Godbout, J.F. Houle and Alex Bellemare all in action for the event.