It takes more than just time and skill to become a top freeride skier.
It also takes a keen eye and experience, which allow athletes to analyze their ideal line even when they are not allowed on course before a competition, as is the case at the Freeride Junior World Championships in Andorra.
Last weekend Whistler Freeride Club athlete Jackson Bathgate proved he had all the skills necessary to win taking top spot on the podium with a score of 91.75.
Bathgate placed 17th at last year's junior worlds, also in Andorra. Now he is two-for-three in European events, which allow only visual inspections leading up to the competition. He also won the El Dorado Freeride Junior competition in the week leading up to the world juniors.
"It feels surreal right now. It kind of feels like a dream. It's crazy to think that that day, I was the best (freeride junior) skier in the world," Bathgate said.
The 17-year-old said getting the extra time in Andorra allowed him to better acclimatize to the conditions, including the higher altitude.
"It definitely helps to get the lay of the land. You weren't so affected by the altitude on top. The hike up wasn't such a big deal," Bathgate said. "The first run was definitely pretty tough with the altitude difference.
"It's definitely harder to get into a good mindset when you're having trouble breathing to get up."
WFC head coach Derek Foose explained though Bathgate drew to be the first skier down, officials opted to let his preferred side of the mountain get some sun and allow for better riding before sending him down. After the section was tested, Bathgate went and shredded his run.
"I was hoping it softened up by the time I dropped in because it was pretty icy in the morning and it was not very workable," Bathgate said. "I dropped 14th and there was a forerunner that went down the left-hand side of the venue just before me. I got the radio up from Derek that said that it looked good to go and my line was a go."
During his run, Bathgate charged some massive drops and handled them impressively, pulling off a late-run 360 before sending it from a daunting cliff to sew up first spot.
Even knowing what Bathgate can accomplish, Foose was impressed by his charge's showing to place him six full points up on fellow Canadian Nigel Ziegler and over seven points up on bronze-medallist Xander Guldman of the United States.
"He nailed exactly the plan that we set out, which is rare in freeskiing," Foose said. "It was to the letter what our plan was and that's pretty cool for a visual inspection. He was fast. He was progressive and definitely right on the plan. I'm pretty happy with that."
In his preparations for the year, Bathgate looked to last year's world juniors, where a crash put him off-line and he never fully recovered. With so many different options available to ski here in Whistler, Bathgate and his teammates scoured unfamiliar areas of Blackcomb Mountain to develop their skills. It paid off.
"We worked on that a lot in the early season this year to try to get it more dialed than last year so I knew where I was going and I could ski how I wanted to ski instead of worrying about where I was on the face," he said. "We went out to a lot of places where I'd never skied very much and didn't know — it was like a foreign mountain."
Foose noted that entering the competition on a win was huge for Bathgate, who was overcoming a disappointing result at the North American Junior Freeride Championships.
"(The win) had a huge impact on him. He came out feeling so good and so confident he could win an event over there and also that he could win an event at all," Foose said. "The last contest that he did before was North American championships last year and he fell. It was nice to have a successful comp run in the bag before your worlds run."
Bathgate will rejoin the rest of the WFC, including twin brother Cooper, this weekend at Kicking Horse Resort. Though the grandeur of the worlds comes relatively early in the year, with so many strong Canadian competitors, Foose anticipates Bathgate will be well tested here at home. In addition to Canadians taking the top two spots in Andorra, fellow Canuck Sam Kuch was fourth, WFC teammate Tom Peiffer was 12th and Jeff Ashton was 21st.
"There's definitely a little anti-climax moving on next weekend to Kicking Horse. There's not going to be a helicopter in the air. There's not going to be live scoring or a live webcast," Foose said. "But at the same time, each event is as important as the last one and on the plus side, Jack's got a ton of confidence now going in but none of them are easy.
"The Canadian freeride scene in Kicking Horse was one of the craziest, gnarliest competitions of the year anywhere last year. The top 20 guys in Canada often would be the top 20 guys at worlds, so it's not going to be any easier. He's got (twin) Coop(er) back in the mix now and all the other guys who didn't get into worlds."
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