Two members of Whitewater’s newly launched Freeride Ski team are already ripping their way to top 10 finishes on the junior competition circuit.
Earlier this month, Nelson’s Trace Cooke, 15, picked up his first gold medal finish in the boys 12 to 15 category of the Lake Louise Free Ski Big Mountain Challenge, while teammate Dale Cushway, 14, came in sixth in his first-ever competitive outing.
“Both of them skied super well,” said team coach Peter Velisek.
The Lake Louise competition, which comes near the end of the junior season, is one of the busiest and biggest of the year, and Velisek said the club hadn’t expected to see two of its skiers place so highly in their first year as a team.
“A lot of kids enter these comps,” Velisek says. “The junior comps are super popular right now.”
In freeride competition, skiers must navigate their way down a piece of terrain that contains all the features of a big mountain environment, from cliffs to steep chutes. Skiers pick their own route down, and are scored on the difficulty of the course they select, as well as their fluidity, aggressiveness and style.
“So to determine the best skier on the mountain, the judges would look for the person who skis the most difficult line with the most control and fluidity and ease,” says Velisek.
For skiers trained on the more forgiving powder of Whitewater, Velisek says the Rocky Mountain competition had some challenging conditions.
“The conditions were kind of chalky,” he says. “The snow was kind of firm and dry and crumbly, and icy in spots. And lots of rocks, as it is in the Rockies.”
Cooke says the conditions on the hill did mean he had to choose a run down the course carefully, but after finishing first in the qualifying round he wanted put everything he had into the final competition.
“The top 10 was all within .3. The person behind me was like .4 behind me,” he says. “So I had to ski as hard as a could.”
The plan paid off for Cooke. He finished the day with a score of 64.77, to put him in first place.
“I was quite surprised,” Cooke admits. “There were some good kids there. I just skied as hard as I could, and just came out on top.”
He also gives credit to Velisek for his coaching help.
“Without him I couldn’t have done it.”
Cushway took a slightly different path to the top 10.
“He hadn’t gotten to ski the area at all the day before, and he was a little tentative in how he sized himself up against everyone else,” says Velisek.
“So he skied a little more tentative the first day, and the second day he dialed in his line and skied really, really well and went from 13 to sixth place. That’s a really excellent finish for his first competition.”
The two weren’t the only Nelson skiers to make their mark at the competition. Sam Howard topped the under 11 competition, finishing six points ahead of the second-place skier.