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Column: Pre-season training and 1st national competition

Mavik MacKinnon recounts national slopestyle competition against older, more experienced competitors
Mavik Mackinnon prepares to compete in the Yukon Canada Cup at Mount Sima in December 2023. It was his first national-level competition. (Submitted)

Editor’s Note: This is the second of four columns from Yukon freestyle skier Mavik MacKinnon. This week he writes about the start of this competition season.

In November of this season I had the chance to do pre-season training at Mount Sima and my first Canada Cup competition. I train and compete with the Freestyle Whistler club and this time I joined their performance team when they came north for pre-season training at Mount Sima. I am very grateful for that accommodation, because I normally train with the Whistler development team, not the higher-level performance team.

Pre-season training is how we refer to Mount Sima’s early opening in November for some athletes to train before the hill is open to the public. This pre-season is usually about four weeks long. Mount Sima is the perfect place for pre-season training due to our northern climate because it gets cold enough to make snow well before the rest of Canada. Freestyle, alpine and snowboard teams come from all over Canada, and even from Europe and the US, to train on our big-air jump and slopestyle course (and International Ski and Snowboard Federation, also known as FIS, alpine course).

Our training involved practicing on the slopestyle course and big-air jump. It felt great to be back on snow and I was so excited to be allowed to do pre-season training as I have never had the opportunity to train before Mount Sima opens to the public. It was also very exciting to train alongside some very high-level freestyle skiers and coaches and they were super supportive.

The Whistler club pre-season training was timed to feed straight into the much-anticipated Yukon Freestyle Canada Cup, the first of three annual national-level freestyle competitions in Canada. Being from the Yukon, I have to travel to British Columbia or Alberta for all of my competitions and much of my training, so it was great that this time I could stay here to train and do a competition of this caliber.

The Yukon Canada Cup was my first national-level competition and it was a great experience. I only competed in the slopestyle event because I did not feel comfortable doing the big air jump this early in the season — although I have hit it quite a few times in past years — and my coaches agreed with that choice. It was a tough competition due to the fact that I’m only 13 and I was competing against some of the best freestyle athletes in Canada with the majority of them being between 15 and 18 years of age.

Slopestyle is my favourite discipline because it allows me to be creative and it usually consists of a course of three rails and three jumps. I was feeling a bit nervous, but way less than when I’m competing at the B.C. provincial comp circuit because I had nothing to lose or prove. I knew there would be no chance of being on the podium with the high level of athletes there, so I just set my mind on landing a clean run, not crashing and getting a score. The conditions weren’t ideal with fog and light snow falling and it was very cold, too, but I was still able to land my first run; not quite the one I wanted, but not bad. At this level of competition, you get to see where you stand right away with live scoring which was new to me and allowed me to see on my dad’s phone how my runs scored.

In the slopestyle qualifiers you get two runs and receive the highest score of the two runs as your qualifying score. There are two sets of judges, usually three on the rails portion and three more judges on the jump line. They combine their scores which leads to your final score and rank for that round, and the top 20 go to finals.

I was able to improve my score on my second run and even though I didn’t do the exact tricks on the rails that I had planned, I was happy with being able to land two solid runs from top to bottom. I’m very satisfied about my first experience at the national level and content with finishing 27th out of 57 and achieving the goal that I had set: to be in the top 30.

This experience helped me learn more about what I need to work on, and left me feeling very inspired by the older athletes and their skill levels. It definitely was a great way to start my season and I even acquired some good relative-point-average points for ranking me in my age group in British Columbia. I’m so happy and thankful for the Freestyle Whistler club and especially the performance team coaches for including and supporting me in pre-season training, and in this national-level competition, and providing guidance along the way. Next up will be the Timber Tour competition in Panorama, British Columbia.

I am thankful for the support of local businesses, Winterlong and Yukon Built, for helping me with some of my training and competing expenses, Freestyle Whistler for the affiliation, support and coaching to compete at these great events, and Mount Sima for providing me and the local community with a great terrain park. The Yukon government and Sport Yukon also have great financial support for many athletes, but I want to give a special thanks to the Northern Lytes Youth Sport Development Fund for their support this year.

Mavik MacKinnon, 13, exceeded his goal of placing in the top 30 of a Canada Cup slopestyle competition at Mount Sima despite being in a field of athletes up to 18 years old. (Submitted)