Whistler freeride skiers finally got the chance to compete on home turf when Whistler Blackcomb hosted its first regional junior freeski challenge, an International Freeskiers & Snowboarders Association (IFSA) sanctioned event last weekend (Jan. 7 and 8).
“It’s nice to have this kind of a learning experience at an event you don’t have to travel to for the kids,” said Derek Foose, coach of the Whistler Freeride Club. “It’s kind of the spirit of regional competitions, and that’s something that we’ve struggled with because we haven’t had (a regional event) here (before).”
However, “The home turf advantage is somewhat negated a bit when every athlete at the competition is at home,” he added with a laugh.
About 80 skiers — ranging in age from nine to 18 — took to the Goat’s Gully slope to participate in the two-day event. Olivia Mcneill topped the Female 15-18 competition, while Cooper Bathgate walked away with the Male 15-18 title.
In the 12-14 age categories, Alexa Dodds placed first amongst the girls while Eric Peiffer was the top male competitor. Drea S. Dimma won the Female 9-11 event, while Kane Gascoigne finished at the top of the Male 9-11 field.
“(I think they all performed) really well. I’m really pleased with the overall level,” said Foose. “They impress me constantly with what they can do given maybe sub-optimal conditions. It was pretty firm out there, and the kids were still totally going for it. There were lots of landed runs, which was cool.”
For many of the athletes who participated over the weekend, the event also marked their first time competing in the sport. “There was a ton of them, that this was their first go, so that was cool to see them start to figure it out,” Foose said.
Freeride competitors are judged on five different categories: line, control, technique, fluidity and style and energy. “All the other categories are tied to your line score... to keep people from just going down the middle and scoring really high control and fluidity scores on a really easy line,” Foose explained, adding that one of the club’s main focuses is to help athletes learn how to identify a line that suits their individual style and skill set. “The same line won’t work for every athlete,” he said.
The number of first-time competitors at last weekend’s event is just one example of the sport’s increasing popularity around the world, Foose added.
“We’ve seen it grow from a couple of events here and there to a full blown North American series,” he explained, adding that the Whistler Freeride Club has also experienced its own unprecedented growth.
Two years ago, the club was comprised of about 50 members, a number Foose said had remained steady for several years. However, the club’s roster grew to include 70 members last year and 90 athletes this season.
“That growth in our club is pretty much right on par with what we’re seeing across the board at other resorts,” Foose said.
The home competition also served as a valuable warm-up contest for the 26 Whistler Freeride Club members set to attend this week’s national-level contest at Red Mountain, and for the two more club members — Bathgate and Rhegan Williamson — who are preparing to represent Canada at the IFSA world junior championships in Andorra at the end of the month.