The long road trip to the Whistler Surprise national event paid off for the Whitewater Freeeride team last weekend. Seventeen athletes arrived in time for the storm of the season which made for prime conditions and big scores.
Going into the finals, the Nelson team was ranked 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in the men’s 15-18 category.
Nelson’s Sam Kuch, 17, shared a first-place tie with Jackson Bathgate from Whistler in the male 15-18 category. Kuch said he was was happy to be a joint winner with his buddy Jackson and fellow Whitewater teammates Nigel Zeigler and Sam Howard.
He said skiing at Whistler opened his eyes to big mountain skiing in Canada. He was also noticed during the qualifiers and gained new sponsorship with SkiLogik.
For the final and winning run Kuch said coach Dano Slater helped him choose a line which was a bit more technical. The landmarks they picked proved crucial when the weather suddenly socked in as Kuch was able to pull off his run as planned with two 360s.
The venue was held near the Peak Chair at 2,284 metres (Whitewater’s elevation tops out at 2,003 metres at the Glory Chair summit). During the inspections and qualifiers Slater said the bad light was “as flat as it gets,” but snowing. With 90 km/h winds and almost zero visibility on March 19 the team did its best to prepare for the competition.
On the day of the finals there was 17 cm of fresh snow and it broke blue, inspiring some skiers to jump the biggest cliffs in their lives.
He’s hard to see but Whitewater Freeride team skier Nigel Zeigler drops a 50 to 80 foot cliff near the Peak Chair summit at Whistler as two skiers watch from above, waiting their turn.
“It was the day of the year for most of us,” said Slater. “The vibe was super high, the kids were jumping big airs and jumping the bomb tram.”
Savannah Leishman straight lined the Coffin, a well known 500-foot (152 m) chute and later placed second in the female 15-18 category.
Slater said as much fun as the athletes are having, the kids are really there to compete.
“These kids aren’t competing for second, they’re all trying for first,” said Slater. “It’s great see the kids pushing out of their comfort zone in extremely large terrain. Whistler is a circus.”
Their efforts were rewarded as most of the top level athletes have made the first round cut to the invite only finals for the Nor-Am Junior Championships to be held in Grand Targhee, Wyoming in April.
Next up for the team is the Smith Optics Junior Freeride Open regional event at Whitewater this weekend.
Whitewater team results for Whistler Surprise National event
Elias Lutz: 2nd
Jesse Thurston: 11th
Savannah Leishman: 2nd
Haley Cooke: 11th
Andi Belland: 15th
Sam Kuch: 1st
Nigel Zeigler: 4th
Sam Howard: 5th
Brendan Kelly: 8th
Sam Woodward: 11th
Jeff Ashton: 16th
Liam Kelly: 18th
Jona Caney: 22nd
Sol Butler: 23rd
Loki Wickman-Ratthe: 29th
Ben Woodward: 36th
Dale Cushway: 40th