This summer, the Yukon’s freestyle ski team trained on Whistler’s plastic snow.
After skimming down the synthetic white stuff, picking up speed, the young skiers practiced flips into a bubbling pool.
“This is how athletes learn the difficult tricks,” said coach Jon Standing, munching a granola bar in the Mt. Sima portable on Friday.
“The bubbles make the landing nice and soft.”
But the Yukon team won’t be doing any flips at the upcoming Canada Winter Games.
Only in its second season, the young team still has a lot to learn.
That said, the fledgling skiers are advancing at breakneck speed.
“The team dynamic is one of the most exceptional I’ve seen,” said Standing, who’s coached across Canada.
“The team is almost all the same age, so they push each other in a healthy way.”
Sprawled against one wall, the team was eating lunch and talking about the tournament.
There are four places on the Canada Games team. There are seven adolescent hopefuls.
One skier is older than the others and is assured a spot, said Standing.
Two other skiers joined the program late, and don’t qualify.
So, in the end, there are four skiers vying for three spots.
To pick the team, Standing decided to hold a tournament in the weeks leading up to the Games.
Each skier earns points in all the freestyle events, and the top-three scorers get in the Games.
“It’s heart-wrenching to watch,” said Standing.
“They’re all under the gun right now.”
It’s going OK, said 12-year-old skier Bryden Kulych, between bites of a sandwich.
“We’re judged on form and everything, based on our positioning.”
Standing gives the team pointers and picks a focus for the day, said skier William Thomson, 12.
Friday, it was moguls.
They were just built, said team member Miguel Rodden, 13.
“We ski down the run and he waits at the bottom and tells us what to do, or sometimes he skies with us.”
The moguls are rough, said Standing.
Mt. Sima just groomed them in a week ago.
“They’re icy and chunky and this morning one of the kids ran his face into one,” he said.
“It’s dangerous, but we have to train.”
At the top of the steep, bumpy slope, a tiny form was silhouetted against the white sky.
Standing gave a wave and the tiny shape started down the hill, bouncing and jumping from one jagged mound to the next.
“Reach,” yelled Standing, as the skier gained speed.
“There’s potential for disaster with all those chunks of ice,” he murmured.
“Would you want to ski that?”
The skier skidded to a stop in front of his coach, sending a shower of snow into the air.
“Make sure you’re planting your pole just beyond the crest of each mogul,” said Standing.
“And maintain that intensity.”
The next skier down had Standing excited.
“If that’s who I think it is, he’s made huge improvements with each run today.”
The tiny skier skidded to a halt, and Standing asked him what he was thinking of as he sailed down the hill.
“I’m just looking ahead,” said the skier.
“Good,” said Standing.
“Keep doing that.”
After a few more runs on the moguls, Standing and his team were going to play.
It’s his second year with the skiers, and Standing’s enjoying it.
Although he has a lot of qualifications, he prefers to work with fledgling teams.
“I have no desire to coach a full, high-performance mogul team,” he said.
“It’s too much traveling — I’ve done it, and I’m tired of it.”
In a few more years, the Yukon team will get to this level, and Standing will move on.
“They have the potential to be national team athletes,” he said.
And when this happens, the skiers will need a new coach.
But until then, Standing will be busy.
“I want to come even earlier next year,” he said.
“And I’d like to try and host a national event.”
There’s this perception that Whitehorse is too far away, he said.
“But when it’s a bad snow year elsewhere, we have solid potential for hosting an event here.”
Freestyle skiing is expensive, especially as the team improves, added Standing.
At the national level, good competition is hard to find, and events are farther away.
But Standing expects his whole team is in for the long haul.
“Typically the ones who are more disciplined excel,” he said.
“But this whole group has a good discipline dynamic.”
At 16, Jonathan Lowery is the oldest skier on the team.
He started skiing three years ago, after picking up a pair of skis at the dump.
“I enjoyed it and wanted to get lessons,” he said.
Now, he’s in the Games.