The success of Whitewater Ski Resort’s first ever freeski competition is evidence of Nelson’s local talent in a sport with growing momentum.
“I had tons of people just come out of the blue and say what a well-run organized event it was, which speaks well for Whitewater and our whole program,” said Dano Slater, Whitewater Freeride Team coach.
In only its second year, the Whitewater Freeride Team had a large representation at this past weekend’s contest.
“We’ve come close to doubling in size from last year to this year and it looks like there’s a lot more interest coming down the pipes,” said Slater.
The freeride coach said the growth of the sport can be attributed to the deceleration of race programs, traditional freestyle programs as well as the availability of media.
“All kids want to do it to imitate the movies so they’re out there freeriding, which is essentially skiing without any rules to it, and that’s what they want to do.”
Having competed, judged and now coached, Slater and his coaching counterpart Peter Velisek are veterans in the freeski world.
“Freeskiing is pretty new, within the last 10 to 15 years… it’s new and it’s gaining popularity every year, especially at the junior level. My first contest was in 1997 at Red Mountain and that was really the beginning of it,” said Slater.
The Whitewater Freeride Team is currently broken up into junior and senior categories and has about 18 young skiers in total.
With the conditions available at Whitewater, Slater says it’s the perfect training ground for these upcoming skiers.
“We have the snow product and we definitely have some cliffs and natural features to play with. I think that just Whitewater having the terrain that it does engineers a kind of skier that can go out almost anywhere in the world and hold their own,” said Slater.
One of Whitewater’s skiers well on his way to accomplishing that is Sam Woodward.
The LVR student, who turns 15 on Saturday, is having an excellent first season competing, placing seventh at the Canadian Open in Rossland earlier this season and winning first in his age category at the Whitewater Jr. Freeski Competition last weekend.
“I love skiing, skiing in powder and just everywhere is just so much fun, it’s always a good time,” said Woodward, who’s been skiing since he was just two years old.
Skiing has been a part of the Woodward family for decades with both his parents and grandmother Mary Woodward, who was recently featured in the Sherpas Cinema film All.I.Can.,as a ski influence.
“I can’t even put it to words, I’m just speechless, it’s crazy,” said the young skier about his grandmother’s appearance in the film.
This year Woodward decided to hang up his hockey gear and focus on skiing.
“I played hockey up until this year. I stopped because it was getting pretty hard between rep hockey and skiing,” he said.
“I think I can definitely go further in skiing than I would be able to go in hockey because I wasn’t one of the major players, I was good, but I wasn’t an all-star.”
Woodward’s final competition run last weekend was on ‘Blast,’ a course he skis regularly, which helped him to pick a line that would score well.
“Within these competitions, line choice is the number one category,” said Velisek.
“If you pick something with a difficult line and ski it the best possible way, you’re going to come out on top because aggression, fluidity, style technique, it’s all based off your line score.”
Woodward’s first-place prize included Smith soft goods as well as a Smith sponsorship — a prize that fellow teammate Trace Cooke, who placed first in the senior category, also won.
“Dano and Peter have helped a lot and just skiing with my friends and pushing each other everyday to get better faster and stronger, it’s been awesome,” said Woodward.
Slater said a lot of the Whitewater skiers were knocked out of a podium position on the final day of competition due to just trying their hardest.
“They just decided to go for it instead of skiing a smarter game and perhaps being ahead in the point standing… none of my athletes were skiing a [safe run]… they all either hit the podium or blew up trying,” said Slater.
“I think that’s the spirit and it’s admirable to just go for it like that.”
Velisek said it was a positive experience all around, with the athletes skiing for fun and pushing the boundaries of their abilities.
“Watching these kids come down, they’re skiing their hearts out and putting everything into their run and the support their giving each other is amazing.”