When the FIS slopestyle World Cup season started this winter, Whitehorse’s Etienne Geoffroy-Gagnon was only guaranteed three starts.
Now as he preps for the final event of the season, he finds himself 20th in the World Cup standings for slopestyle after having competed at every slopestyle event of the season as well as one of three big air events.
“After landing runs everywhere and putting it down, I’ve acquired spots for pretty much all the World Cups this year,” said Geoffroy-Gagnon. “That’s definitely pretty cool for the season.”
Most recently Geoffroy-Gagnon was in Quebec City for a big air competition on March 16, but the week before he was at Mammoth Mountain in California for slopestyle on March 10.
Geoffroy-Gagnon said bad weather at Mammoth meant training was shortened and the competition had to be squeezed in.
“Previous years, it has always been hit or miss with the weather,” said Geoffroy-Gagnon. “We were supposed to get two full training days, we ended up getting one because of a snowstorm.”
Everything was delayed – including qualifications and the halfpipe competition happening concurrently – but the weather improved just in time to fit the competition in.
“We ended up not skiing for about five days,” said Geoffroy-Gagnon. “Then, all of a sudden, it kind of cleared up for us on the last day before leaving, so we tried to cram everything into one day. It was pretty minimal training and definitely a hard course.”
The course at Mammoth Mountain is larger than most — featuring four jumps instead of the typical three — and has some unique features that meant this wasn’t the event Geoffroy-Gagnon wanted to go into without a lot of training.
“I’m definitely kind of used to the jumps that they have there and the pitch of the rails,” said Geoffroy-Gagnon, explaining that his experience on the NorAm Cup course was at least somewhat helpful in being ready to compete. “The courses for the NorAm are always a lot smaller than for the World Cups because they make the Grand Prix a very difficult course and then they take out a bunch of stuff and tone it down for the NorAm.”
Geoffroy-Gagnon said it’s an “impact course” with a lot of flat landings as well as some side features not found at other mountains.
“The angles don’t really match up, so it takes a lot on the body and I already was expecting that,” he said. “(Experience) did definitely kind of help, but it was a super hard course and there were a lot of people that didn’t land runs.”
In qualifying, Geoffroy-Gagnon put down a 77.50 on his first run that placed him 11th in his heat and knocked him out of the finals.
“I definitely landed the run that I wanted to land,” said Geoffroy-Gagnon. “It wasn’t the cleanest that I could have done it, but it was the first time I was able to put it all together with my first run.”
Because of the snowfall and the warm temperatures, the snow melted as the day wore on and getting enough speed became an issue — particularly for people trying to enter backwards like Geoffroy-Gagnon.
“The first run I made the speed but not very well,” said Geoffroy-Gagnon. “The second run everything was looking good and I had to back out of that jump because it was too slow.”
Geoffroy-Gagnon said approximately three-quarters of the skiers who advanced to the finals were going off the first jump forwards.
“They could land the feature before and tuck on their skis, sit down and make the speed,” said Geoffroy-Gagnon. “The course just wasn’t really running as well as we would have liked it.”
The addition of a fourth jump also added a wrinkle for the competitors — spinning a fourth direction. Skiers can spin one of four directions when they go off a jump — either forwards or backwards and left or right. Since most courses have three jumps, most skiers hone in on three directions to the detriment of the fourth.
Four-jump courses means skiers have to train that fourth direction as fast as possible in order to be competitive.
“Everyone has their three really good ways of spinning that they work on a lot, and then everyone has one way that is harder for them that they don’t train as much,” explained Geoffroy-Gagnon.
“When you’re doing the slopestyle season, you kind of get into those big jumps that you’re used to doing and you do them all the time, (so) you don’t have time to train those other jumps. That’s really when you see people learning new stuff and adapting to what they have to do. It’s pretty cool to see that everyone has to figure it out as well.”
The next week, Geoffroy-Gagnon was back in Quebec City for big air competition — the same World Cup event where he made his debut last season.
“I have to say it’s pretty fun because it’s one jump,” said Geoffroy-Gagnon. “The tricks that we do in slopestyle, you can do in big air, but most people have a lot bigger tricks that they don’t do in slopestyle.”
He said most of his teammates had to learn something new for the competition because they know how hard it is to make the finals.
“I had really good training and definitely took it more as a training camp,” said Geoffroy-Gagnon. “(I) worked on a couple things I’ve been wanting to work on and put down to try and put into my slopestyle run.”
Geoffroy-Gagnon said he landed a “safe” jump in his first attempt in qualifications but knew it wouldn’t be enough to advance.
“I went for it on my second jump and still didn’t do as well as I would have liked,” said Geoffroy-Gagnon. “If I would have really done it perfectly, I think I would have made it through but I definitely didn’t grab as well as I’d done it in training.”
Geoffroy-Gagnon ended up 16th in qualifying with a 79.25.
He said skiers had around a dozen jumps in training, so getting a winning trick dialed in was always a difficult ask.
“I was still super happy,” said Geoffroy-Gagnon. “(I) came out of there with two new tricks that I can do in slopestyle and I’ve been wanting to do those jumps for a while, so I was happy with that.”
Geoffroy-Gagnon and his Team Canada teammates wrap up the World Cup in Silvaplana, Switzerland, with the final slopestyle event on March 29 and 30.
After that, Geoffroy-Gagnon said he will be coming home to Whitehorse.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully ending the comp season on a good note and then I’ll be back in Whitehorse to do Simapalooza and show my face around those parts,” said Geoffroy-Gagnon. “I’ll be happy to be there — it’s going to be so nice.”
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at email@example.com