After just a few runs Tuesday afternoon, the Canada Winter Games snowboarding course was getting “sketchy.”
It was the start of the parallel giant slalom finals, and as snowboarders whistled down the hill carving sharply between the flags, the coarse began to suffer.
“When they turn, their board digs in and it chops it up,” said national team competitor Alexa Loo.
“And the holes keep getting bigger and bigger.”
Loo, who competes at world cup events and raced at the winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, last year, doesn’t usually face a course this rough.
“We’re babied at the world cup,” she said.
“There are always lots of people on skis making sure the course is nice and smooth between every run.
“But they don’t have the manpower here.”
To get down a choppy slope like this, the snowboarders have to be light on their feet, she said.
But they also have to be powerful.
When flying down the hill at 65 kilometres an hour, there’s little room for error.
And one false turn can destroy a medal-worthy run.
“I fell in Torino,” said Loo.
“I made a mistake — another four tenths of a second and I would have made the finals.”
Instead, she placed 20th.
Loo was at the Games to cheer on the younger athletes, some of whom she competes against at the nationals.
After watching Page Seabrook finish a rough run down the slope, Loo walked over to her and talked quietly.
Seabrook pulled her helmet off and looked down at her knee.
The Albertan racer had injured it in July, and it was gone again.
“I’m out,” said Seabrook, her eyes welling with tears.
Bending over to unclip her snowboard, Seabrook revealed a studded belt holding up white baggy pants.
“It’s for style and fun,” she said.
Seabrook was not the only racer wearing a stylish coat and snowpants instead of the traditional racing spandex.
“This is what we wear training,” she said.
“It’s too cold.”
Spandex can shave seconds off the run, said Jamie Gilhen.
Sporting a sleek yellow racing suit, the Nova Scotian snowboarder was braving the temperature.
“I’m cold,” he said.
“I’m not going to pretend I’m not.”
But the suit wasn’t the problem.
“It’s more my face and the snowmobile ride back up the hill,” he said.
When it’s this cold, the racers should avoid the gates, said Loo.
The colourful gates are usually flexible, and give when a snowboarder carves too close, but in the cold they get rigid.
To get through the whole course without falling or missing a gate, the snowboarders have to set themselves up properly, she added.
This involves some technical focus, however for most of the run the ‘boarders are just thinking, “go, go, turn, go, go,” she said with a laugh.
Snowboarding is a demo sport at the Games, so medals earned by the contenders won’t be included in the provincial and territorial count.
But as a stepping-stone event, it’s still a great experience for the racers, said Loo.
“It gives them the feeling of representing their province, and being part of a bigger team, instead of just being there for you.”
At the bottom of the run, wrapped in a big scarf and long coat was a woman holding a “So Proud of Team Toba” sign.
There were four snowboarders from Manitoba at the Games, and Simone Hanson’s son Michael was one of them.
He didn’t make it to the finals, but Simone was out in the cold anyway, cheering on the two Manitoba kids who did.
Simone held up another sign.
“Training $1,500, Equipment $5,000, Flight $1,500 — Seeing my kid compete in the Canada Winter Games, priceless.”
“It’s the experience of a lifetime,” she said.
The finals began with 16 men and 10 women competing.
Because there were fewer women than places, all made it to the finals, and the six top female contenders got a buy to the quarterfinals.
The elimination-style event saw pairs of snowboarders racing each other twice, to run both courses. And from each pairing, the racer with the best overall time went on to the next level.
Ontario’s Marianne Leeson took gold in the female giant slalom. Justine Cote took silver for Quebec and Ontario’s Rachael Merry took bronze.
In the male giant slalom Alberta earned two top medals with Daniel Haines taking gold, and Curt Rohm getting silver. Bronze went to Ontario’s Thomas Snarr.