Growing up, Kayla Constantini was always on the sidelines cheering on her older sister, Amanda, as she competed with the Whistler Freeride Club.
That made it all the more special when, earlier this month, the nine-year-old picked up her first-ever win in the female ski 9-11 category at the Whistler Blackcomb regional junior freeski challenge — only her second competition — before watching her sister pick up a third-place result in the female ski 15-18 division.
All the years of watching her sister, “gave me a good idea of what to practice and just made me more comfortable,” said Kayla, who officially joined the freeride club this year. “I like following in my sisters steps, and I love that (freeriding) isn’t like, ‘do this, do that.’ You can pick your own line and do what you want.”
Kayla’s interest in joining the freeride club, “got me really happy,” Amanda added. “My sister and I kind of click like little best friends. It’s really nice to see (her following in my footsteps), because my brother, sister and I used to be in three separate ski clubs last year.”
The Constantini sisters were only two of a handful of locals who scored great results among the over-100 competitors who braved icy conditions and low visibility on the Goat’s Gully slope for the International Freeskiers & Snowboarders Association (IFSA)-sanctioned event on Jan. 7. That’s up from the 80 skiers who competed at last year’s inaugural Whistler Blackcomb regional freeski challenge — proof that interest in competitive freeriding, where athletes are judged on line choice, control, technique, fluidity and style and energy, is only increasing.
Floyd Guy took first place in the male ski 9-11 group, while Sofia Guy topped the female ski 12-14 field. Wei Tien Ho claimed first in the male ski 12-14, while Noah Rother put down a first-place performance to win the male 15-18 category.
The podium performance also served as a comeback for Amanda, who turns 17 next month. It was her first time returning to competition since suffering a season-ending knee injury last February.
“To be honest, I was a little scared because I was wondering if something was going to happen again like that, but once I got into it and inspected the venue — we got to go over to the venue a couple of days before and ski some lines — I was feeling pretty good after that.”
After seeing the score sheet following qualifiers, Amanda said she wasn’t expecting to see such high numbers. “When I came down and finished my run, I was surprised, because the venue was so slippery at icy that I missed two of my features… I changed my line a little bit in finals because it was just getting pretty rugged — one of the drops. I think I just kept a steady and fluid run and just blocked everything else out.”
Amanda was bested by Whistler Freeride Club teammate Olivia McNeill, who came first in female ski 15-18 division — a result the Vancouverite hopes will give her a dose of momentum as she prepares to represent Canada, and her club, at the Freeride Junior World Championships in Austria this March.
“It’s a nice way to start the season, especially after a while of being off. After the off-season, it’s nice to know it can still happen, even when you’re feeling kind of ‘meh’ as a skier and getting back into the season,” said McNeill, adding that she “always gets super nervous before competitions, no matter what they are, even if it’s small or big… I love skiing so I care about it, and I get nervous every time.”
While McNeill will undoubtedly be bringing that bundle of nerves with her to Austria, it’ll be accompanied by excitement as well. “I’ve always wanted to ski in Europe, so on top of it, that’s another cool thing that gets to happen,” she said. “Since I started (freeride skiing), I’ve been watching and wanting to go (compete). Now I’m going and it’s getting closer.”
While one goal of McNeill’s is always to land on the podium, “it’ll be an amazing experience no matter what,” she said. “I suppose when I get there, I just want have a run that I’m proud of; make it worth going over there.”
For full results, go to whistlerblackcomb.com/~/media/Files/Events/2018/Jr-Freeride/RegionalRESULTSJan7V2.ashx?la=en