Haley Cooke (black jacket) placed sixth in the women’s ski category at the Junior Freeride World Tour in Andorra on Feb. 8. Haley’s older brother Trace (red jacket) was also in Europe competing in the Freeride World Qualifiers for the second year.

Haley Cooke places sixth in Junior Freeride World Tour

Local siblings Haley and Trace Cooke conquer European slopes.

A Nelson teen says she’s amazed and excited about her recent sixth place finish at the Junior Freeride World Tour in Andorra.

“It was an incredible, mesmerizing experience,” said Haley Cooke, 16, a Grade 11 student at L.V. Rogers who trains with the Whitewater free ski team. She travelled to Grandvalira, southern Europe’s largest ski resort as part of the Canadian team of 15 to 18 year olds.

Ranked second in Canada and fifth in North America by the International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association, she was the top Canadian female, ahead of teammate Andrea Byrne of Fernie. Byrne was ranked as the number one Canadian female going into the competition but was one of several racers to lose a ski on the mountain face.

Haley’s 19-year-old brother Trace was in Europe competing in the Freeride World Qualifiers, so he flew to Andorra to watch his sister compete and act as a guest coach for the Canadian team.

Trace said watching his sister place sixth “almost felt better than competing” and was “definitely the highlight of the trip.”

Haley said Trace was a big help coaching: “It was great to have the inside info, the know-how. He was drilling it into our heads to look for a landmark ahead so you don’t get lost on the way [down].”

They spent three days looking at the face she would ski and she discovered she prefers visual inspection.

“In Canada, we’re used to on-hill inspection [skiing the actual course prior to the competition]. But I really enjoy visual inspection. It’s a really good way to preserve snow and test yourself as a skier.”

Trace Cooke (red jacket) during a visual inspection.

By race day, there was plenty of fresh snow and once she was at the top, she found her route looked steeper than from the bottom and there were a few cliffs.

“Everything changes when you’re looking at the route from the top,” she said. Then she got a message from her brother: “Just stay on your feet and finish; lots of girls are falling.”

When a helicopter flew nearby to film her on her one run, she didn’t even notice.: “I really I just wanted to ski a fun run. I didn’t want to get hurt.”

Haley said her run was “pretty fluid” and she heeded her brother’s advice not to slow down as judges could dock points.

“I didn’t hesitate at all, and used lots of solid good technique and smart skiing.

“My parents are really proud [her dad travelled to Andorra] and for three days my brother kept telling me how proud he was of me.”

Trace said: “In visual inspection it’s one thing to help an athlete out by showing them landmarks and visualization but it’s really stressful to put it all together on competition day and see what they have really visualized. And to see my sister drop in with the helicopter filming right in her face and still put down the run we talked about and finish sixth in the world felt almost better than being the competitor. I was so happy for her!”

Haley still has five competitions in Canada and the finals in Squaw Valley before her season is done.

Siblings Trace and Haley Cooke. Photo by T. Hynd

Meanwhile Trace has wrapped up his European tour.

He is currently ranked 22nd after a fourth place finish in Verbier Freeride Week in Switzerland, a 22nd place finish at the Big Mountain Hochfuegen in Austria and a 15th place finish in Italy. He was looking for redemption in the last race, but challenging snow conditions caused the race venue and dates to be changed and postponed a number of times.

“We started off by being helicoptered up to inspect a crazy big face,” he said. “But as we were watching, a big slab avalanche let go.”

A new face was chosen and riders were given a photo of it the night before.

Trace had 20 minutes for a visual inspection in the morning, before he and other skiers had to hike to the top.

“I had a slight hesitation. It was very hard to navigate the top. Then I dropped in and had I really good run. It was hard to finish 15th but it gave me confidence that if I didn’t hesitate, I could have been on the podium. It will come.

“The trip was a really good learning experience and warm up. And I ski better under pressure. I’m feeling very strong and looking forward to the rest of season.”

The siblings have returned home to Nelson and Trace will be teaching youth clinics this weekend at the Coldsmoke Festival at Whitewater. Then it’s back on to the Freeride World Qualifier circuit as he travels to the US, where he said he needs good results in the next four competitions to qualify for the Freeride World Tour next year.

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