Even without a place to practise, Yukon’s freestyle skiers managed to crown their champions last week at their adopted home — Watson Lake’s Mount Maichen.
The Whitehorse-based 14-member squad started, and finished, the competitive season with a trip to ski hills in Smithers and Terrace, before getting one more shot at the Watson Lake hill for the championships.
Miguel Rodden won in the boys’ air competition, and Travis Wilson took the moguls crown. Anna Smith was the top female in the moguls, and Sara Burke ruled the air.
The team’s first competition, and first chance to show their stuff, was an open-slope style competition at Shames Mountain outside Terrace, BC the week before.
Whitehorse’s Miguel Rodden was the top finisher in that event, which saw Yukon’s skiers take on a solid group of Smithers and Terrace locals.
“He’s been a really steady competitor, and very mature, he makes good decisions in competition,” said coach Jon Standing of Rodden.
Slope style is the hottest trend in both freestyle skiing and snowboarding; it gives the competitor the freedom to create their own line through a terrain park, which often includes rails, jumps, banks and other obstacles which they can use to impress the judges.
“Literally everybody put down solid runs,” said Standing.
The Yukon teams’ first competition of the season was a test for the athletes who had to deal with a compromised practice schedule after Whitehorse’s Mount Sima closed in January due to safety concerns.
After spending months on dryland training, trampoline work and attending a summer camp at Whistler, the young freestylers on the competitive team were pumped for a season of real progress — but had to accept the reality of the troubles at Sima.
“I was directly involved in that — I said the teams wouldn’t ride the lift,” said Standing.
The competitive alpine and freestyle teams got in about nine days of skiing before Sima shut down in the aftermath of a 40-kilogram piece of the t-bar lift falling off and nearly hitting Standing and one of his skiers, he said.
“Skiing is never guaranteed to be safe, but a reasonable amount of safety couldn’t be promised.”
After Standing made the decision, he had to break it to his team.
“The kids experienced some frustration there,” said Standing. “It’s hard to do so much training without the reward of actually getting to ski on the weekends.”
The team lost a few skiers to other sports, but managed to hold on to 14 keeners.
“It was disappointing, but I didn’t want to do any other sports,” said Miguel Rodden, who decided to stick with freestyle after the Sima closure.
With no hometown ski hill, Standing had to find a plan B.
“It was time to start jumping through hoops,” he laughed. “But I have to say that the Yukon has been great for supporting us, it’s a really great, tight-knit group supporting sport here.”
The team made several trips to Watson Lake over the season, to get in at least a little practice time.
“I told the team that, in the big scheme of things, this was a minor setback and all their hard work will pay dividends.”
It wasn’t just the competitive teams that had to take the lumps — the youth program, a joint alpine/freestyle course for younger kids — designed to prepare athletes for the competitive teams, was cancelled completely.
All the elements were in place for the youth program to flourish — almost guaranteeing success for Yukon on the slopes in the coming years — except there was nowhere to ski.
“It’s frustrating to have all this infrastructure in place, and not use it,” said Standing. “The programs were full, we had coaches and funding in place.”
The youth program was cut short in February after a few dryland/trampoline sessions, and participants were given a partial refund.
“We’ve got really high hopes for the youth program, and there’s still a lot of interest for next season,” said Standing. “The potential remains … and the development continues.”
Now that the ski season is winding down, Standing stressed that it is important for Mount Sima’s board of directors to make sure that crucial spring maintenance at the hill gets completed, so that next year’s season can be a smooth one.
To finish the season on a high note, Standing has put together the Rail Jam competition, to be held in the stadium at Mount McIntyre on Saturday, April 5th from noon to 8 p.m.
Freestylers, snowboarders and cross-country skiers with a taste for air are invited to hit the rails and jumps with their best combos for the judges.
“There’s a lot of hardcore guys in town practising in their backyards,” said Standing. “This is a chance for them to show their stuff.”
Helmets are mandatory and each competitor must be a member of either Yukon Freestyle, Yukon Snowboarding or the Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club. (Don’t worry if you’re not a member, you can sign up on site, and it is included in the $20 entry fee.)
There will be music all day, DJ’s or live bands, to get the crowd and competitors pumped. There will also be prizes from Boardstiff.
Volunteers are needed for the Rail Jam, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.