If Vincent Gagnier hits the AFP World Championships big air podium again on Saturday (April 13), he won’t be as surprised this time.
When the Canadian slopestyle team member finished as the runner-up in the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF) showcase event last year, his second-straight trip to the contest’s podium, he said it was a bit of a shock because he felt he was “a better jibber than a jumper.”
That’s not the case anymore.
“I probably said that before, but now I’m probably a better jumper than a jibber,” Gagnier said Tuesday (April 9) after returning home from the Jon Olsson Invitational in Sweden. “I’ve hit more jumps in the last few years than rails. I like being in the air more.
“Somehow it worked out for the last two years in big air, so hopefully we can keep it rolling again.”
The Quebec native will be among a field of the world’s best freestyle skiers for this week’s World Skiing Invitational and AFP World Championships, which feature Saturday’s big air at the base of Skiers Plaza, starting at 5 p.m., and slopestyle competition Sunday and Monday (April 14 and 15) on Blackcomb.
“It’s the only event in Canada really for our sport and it’s the final event of the season, so you kind of want to make a last statement if you can,” Gagnier said of the stop in Whistler.
There’s more on the line than just the $10,000 in prize money up for grabs in both events. It’s the final chance for skiers to earn points towards AFP rankings, with the discipline season titles and Sarah Burke trophies for overall winners to be handed out when the event wraps up.
Gagnier sat No. 2 in the big air rankings behind U.S. skier Gus Kenworthy at press time with JOI results yet to be factored in, so he’ll be in contention to take the season crown. But the 19-year-old said he’ll be satisfied with a high finish in the standings even if it isn’t first place.
“It would just prove that I was consistent throughout the year, so if I got top three that would be awesome — a good little reward,” he said.
Kenworthy is another skier to watch this week, as he won both slopestyle and big air at last year’s WSSF and is looking to lock up his third AFP men’s overall title in a row. Kenworthy currently leads the overall rankings, with New Zealand’s Jossi Wells and Sweden’s Henrik Harlaut sitting second and third.
The top 30 skiers in the big air standings are pre-qualified for Saturday night’s event, including Whistler-based T.J. Schiller. The top 20 in the slopestyle rankings are guaranteed spots in Monday’s semifinals, while 60 more will battle through Sunday qualifiers with 10 advancing on to Monday’s competition.
Tsubota ready for fun week
Yuki Tsubota already has a Hawaii vacation planned for when the season is all wrapped up, but she’s first looking forward to one of her favourite events of the year on her home mountain.
“I probably look forward to this the most because it’s at home and it’s a fun comp with all my friends,” said the Pemberton resident. “It’s the best.”
Tsubota earned a surprise podium of her own last year when she finished third in women’s slopestyle. She’s one of 10 skiers pre-qualified for Monday’s finals, and is currently fifth in the discipline’s AFP rankings. Though she’s coming to the end of a breakout season that included her X Games debut and a Dew Tour podium, she’s not putting too much pressure on herself to perform this week.
“I’d like to be on the podium hopefully again, but I really just want to be out there having fun with everyone,” she said. “It’s the last comp of the year, we’re at home and it’s really just a fun thing for me.”
Norway’s Tiril Sjåstad Christiansen arrives in Whistler as the AFP women’s overall leader and will look to secure the Sarah Burke Trophy with a strong showing Monday.
Visit www.wssf.com for full men’s and women’s rider lists and competition info.