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Whitewater Grows Garden Fresh Freeride Skiers by the Bushel
Cover Photo: Tristan Martin-Preney
At the 2016, fifth annual Smith Optics Whitewater Junior Freeride Championship, as the World Cup results rolled in and we learned that three of the best junior freeride skiers in the world come from Whitewater Ski Resort, talk on the chairlift centered around all the theories of how this was possible. The local team, coached by skiing legends Dano Slater, Pete Velesik, Pete Then, and Moss Patterson, has skied gnarly terrain since they could walk. They may not have matching uniforms, but they produce more of the world's best freeride skiers than any other hill in North America.
The championships happen each year in Andorra, and take the best of the junior freeride skiers from around the world to compete for the title. Of the kids who went over from Canada, 5 of the 7 came from Whitewater Freeride Team.
Let me repeat that, because I am not sure it has all absorbed yet:
- Five of the seven junior freeride skiers representing Canada in the World championships came from Whitewater Freeride Team.
- Nigel Zeigler, Sam Kuch, Jeff Ashton, Hayley Cooke, and Savanah Leishman represented Whitewater, while Jackson Bathgate and Tom Pieffer represented Whistler.
- And, at the end of the day, Nigel Zeigler placed second, while Sam Kuch placed fourth. Haley Cooke placed seventh in the women's category.
Funnily enough, though seriously proud to represent and happy about killing it, one thread that runs through this team and the sport in general is an emphasis on rewarding a good showing, sometimes over the top score of the day. There's also a seriously blurry line between teams and a camaraderie between skiers that spans geography, team allegiance and age categories.
So while there is some well-deserved hometown pride for the kids who came from Whitewater, those same kids also root for, support and encourage Jackson Bathgate and Tom Pieffer from Whistler. In fact, you can often hear the kids generally cheering for any skier giving a run their best shot.
Part of the reason for this attitude comes from a top-down leadership. Jeff Holden, head judge for the IFSA (International Freeride Skiers and Snowboarders Association) has chosen to live here, and embodies the sport with a combination of soul, spoken word poetry, tight judging standards and a calm demeanor that notices and calls out kids who show the true spirit of the sport, whether they garner top score during an event or not.
Over the weekend, for example, prizes were handed out for kids who bailed but tried hard, for kids who showed the spirit of the sport in some way above and beyond what you would expect. And throughout the weekend, it was hard not to notice that all the kids cheered for each other in a way that genuinely came from a place of "we're all in this together" rather than a forced showing of sportsmanship.
At the end of the day, it's hard to know how Whitewater Ski Resort and the Whitewater Freeride Team grow such world-class skiers. The fact is, though, that any weekend day during the winter months, just by visiting the hill you can see some of the best skiing in the world and experience it for yourself. Follow our experience on our facebook page or watch our video.
Let it snow!
*A previous version of this article mentioned that Savannah Leishman came in 7th. She actually placed 12th. Haley Cooke came in 7th in the women's division.