Finally getting a chance to be the hosts, Whistler freeskiers took full advantage of competing at home over the weekend by securing some great finishes in the inaugural GoPro Junior Freeski Challenge.
Whistler Freeride Club members Carlene Loughlin and Meghan Platt led the way with a one-two finish in the girls' 15 to 18 age group, while Cooper Bathgate kept his streak of podium finishes going by taking second place in the boys' 15 to 18 event.
Loughlin sat first after her Feb. 9 qualifying run, and posted the top score again in the final on Monday, Feb. 10 to take the title.
"I was pretty nervous going into finals because I've qualified first before and it hasn't turned out so well," said the 17-year-old. "But I was lucky to have a good run again and it turned out for the better."
Loughlin said getting a chance to ski The Bite run on Blackcomb for the weekend worked out well for most of the locals.
"I felt pretty comfortable since we were on our home mountain, so I think it was beneficial," she said. "We had been skiing the runs for a couple weeks, so we kind of knew what to expect and I think we had an upper hand."
Loughlin finished with a two-run score of 65.90 to edge Platt (64.27) for first. Andrea Byrne (62.12) finished third.
Bathgate was ranked fifth after the qualifying run, but worked a half-dozen 360s into his final trip down the course to move up into second place.
"It was a really good experience having everyone at our mountain," said Bathgate, who had more than 50 other skiers to contend with in his age group alone. "It was fun. (The course) was safe for sure, but that's good for the first year of the comp here to make sure it happens again."
Bathgate, who's part of the Northwest Freeride team, had the third-highest score on Monday and finished with a combined total of 67.20 to slot in just behind Martin Lentz (67.73) of the Altabird Freeride club. Bathgate has now finished in the top three at all of his events this season. Casey Rose (66.53) finished third.
Among other local skiers, Liam Peiffer finished 10th, Jackson Bathgate placed 15th, Mitchell Long skied to 18th and Tom Peiffer was 20th.
Local competitors were also solid in the 12 to 14 age groups, which held their qualifying runs on Feb. 8 ahead of Monday's finals. Whistler's Olivia McNeill took top spot, Northwest Freeride skier Anna Thompson finished second and Whistler Freerider Aoife Gannon finished third.
In the boys' group, Whistler's Benjie McMaster reached the podium in third spot, placing just ahead of teammate Jessie McAuley. Jona Caney of the Whitewater team finished first, while Sam Howard was the runner up.
Many Whistler skiers made the boys' 12 to 14 final, including Dylan Rupnow (10th), River Stanger (13th) and Rhys Higgins (15th). Luke Lister had one of the top qualifying scores on Saturday but did not ski in Monday's final, due to injury.
Skiers from both the Whistler and Northwest teams will keep busy in the coming weeks, with competitions at Fernie and Lake Louise on the schedules for some. Meanwhile, the hope is that this weekend's event will be a regular Whistler fixture in future winters.
"I can't wait for next year's competition," said Loughlin.
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