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Jeff Ihaksi: Course builder to the ’cross stars

click to enlarge Jeff Ihaksi
  • Jeff Ihaksi

It’s rare that athletes will agree on anything — virtually impossible if they compete head-to-head. But at a recent World Cup event in New York’s Whiteface Mountain, I found full consensus among the best boardercross racers on the planet. And to me, that was shocking!

Didn’t matter whether they were American, Canadian, French — or even Australian. Didn’t matter whether they were male or female, hard-booters or soft. Everyone I asked agreed. If a snowboardcross course had the Ihaksi signature on it, then the race would be a good one.

“I have full faith in Jeff’s designs,” said Canada’s golden ’cross girl, Maëlle Ricker. “He really knows what he’s doing. And while he never makes things too easy for us, his courses are always fun to race on. They bring out the best in everyone.”

French coach and snowboard legend, Nicolas Conte, was just as enthusiastic about Ihaksi’s designs. “He’s one of the best in the business,” he said. “He really knows how to use a hill to his advantage. Jeff understands the subtleties of ’cross racing — and that makes a better event for both racers and spectators.”

With those kind of accolades flitting around his head, one might think that the longtime Whistler-Blackcomb lift mechanic would be resting on his laurels some. I mean, why push it? He has the athletes in his pockets, the coaches singing his praise. Why not just sit back and let the peons do the grunt work?

Because that’s just not the Ihaksi way. When I finally caught up with the Pemberton resident (and imminent father) on the first day of training at Whiteface, Jeff was madly shaving away some excess snow from the take-off on one of the big gap jumps he’d just finished building. What’s up? I wondered.

“Well,” he said, in that near-serene, quiet way of his. “There are always last-minute tweaks to be made.” He laughed, almost self-consciously. Kept working. “And it really never ends. Chances are, I’ll be out here on race day still fine-tuning features…”

His measure of success is simple, he says. “If racers come off the course saying ‘I can’t wait to go back to the top and ride it again’, then I’ve done my job. Know what I mean? There has to be a certain level of comfort between the racer and the course. That’s when you see the most athletic moves, the most exciting riding. After all, you don’t want racers braking before a jump. You want them pushing their limits to go faster…”

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