Wilks snags silver in the pipe

GIRDWOOD, Alaska Kayla Wilks didn’t expect much heading into the Arctic Winter Games halfpipe competition Thursday.

GIRDWOOD, Alaska

Kayla Wilks didn’t expect much heading into the Arctic Winter Games halfpipe competition Thursday.

In fact, none of the Team Yukon snowboarders did.

Since the halfpipe at Mount Sima in Whitehorse was only completed a couple weeks ago, there wasn’t a lot of time to train for Thursday’s competition at the Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood.

“I think that went really well; I got some pretty good air and did some nice grabs,” said Wilks after completing her second run in the halfpipe event. “I just tried to stay relaxed so that I wouldn’t mess up.”

Wilks didn’t mess up and managed to win the silver ulu in that event.

Some boarders, like Team Yukon rider Wheaton Symington, had never put board to pipe before this AWG competition.

And though she narrowly missed out on a medal in halfpipe, Symington did collect ulus in the slalom and the border-cross events earlier in the week.

“I came in hoping to medal, but I never thought I was going to,” she said. “I just got lucky, I guess.”

Despite the Sima setbacks, Wilks and teammate Katrina Couch managed to twist and grab their way to silver and bronze ulus, respectively, in Thursday’s halfpipe event.

Couch is the only returning AWG athlete on the snowboard team. In 2004, at the Games in Fort McMurray, Couch stunned the crowd by performing a Satan flip in the slopestyle event and took gold. (A Satan flip is a back flip and is not allowed at this year’s AWG because of the risk.)

“I’m just really chilled this year and am here for a good time,” said Couch. “I’m actually competing against some of the same girls as I did in Fort McMurray, so that makes it pretty fun.”

“The results have been pretty amazing,” said head coach Tyler Nicol, adding that the halfpipe in Whitehorse is three times the size of the one made for these Arctic Winter Games.

He wasn’t surprised that the Yukoners fared well in the halfpipe because they’re so strong in all the other events.

“It’s a natural transition,” said Nicol. “If you’re a good park rider, chances are you’ll be good in the halfpipe.”

In the boardercross, slalom and halfpipe, Team Yukon picked a total of six ulus and with the team’s best event happening later today, more medals are expected.

The slopestyle is a race down a course laden with rails and jumps in which the boarders have to impress the judges with their tricks while staying upright and making it down the hill in the fastest time.

“The slopestyle is where these guys really shine,” said Nicol.

Each morning, the snowboarders and skiers endured a two-hour bus ride from the athlete’s village in Soldotna to the ski resort in Girdwood and though they missed a little sleep before their events, “it’s been totally worth it because of the quality riding we’ve gotten in on this hill,” said Nicol.

“I’ll definitely come back here.”

Nicol also noted that, along with the halfpipe, the terrain park in Girdwood is a little smaller than the one in Whitehorse.

“The park at Sima has really helped the progression of our freestyle athletes,” he said.

“Three years ago, before the park was built, these riders didn’t know how to jump or really even what a park was all about and now they’ve progressed really fast.”

The well-maintained park also means that Yukon snowboarders will be well prepared for the 2007 Canada Winter Games.

The trials for those Games will be held later this season.

“I’ll be eligible for the Canada Games and we have the tryouts in a couple weeks, so I’ll be ready,” said Yukoner Gabe McFarlane.

Meanwhile, also at Alyeska on Thursday, the Yukon alpine skiers ripped up the hill with Derek Wilson claiming the bronze ulu in the dual slalom event.

This makes the third bronze for Wilson who also medaled in the slalom and giant slalom events earlier this week.

Here are the full snowboarding results for Thursday’s halfpipe competition.