Locals highlight freestyle ski national teams 

D'Artois promoted, Sharpe and Kelley added, Hicks retiring

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE RIDEWOOD / COURTESY OF CFSA - moving up Whistler's Simon d'Artois has been promoted to the national halfpipe ski team's A Group for next season.
  • photo by mike ridewood / courtesy of cfsa
  • moving up Whistler's Simon d'Artois has been promoted to the national halfpipe ski team's A Group for next season.

Imagine what Simon d'Artois can do when all he has to focus on is skiing.

The Whistler native's breakthrough 2013-14 campaign didn't go unnoticed by the brass at the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association (CFSA), as he has been promoted to the national halfpipe ski team's A Group for the upcoming winter season.

That means that the majority of the 22-year-old's training and competition expenses will be covered next year.

"That's going to make it easy for me," said d'Artois. "I'm pretty excited to be considered in the A Group — the top of the top, it's a pretty cool place to be."

Olympic silver medallist Mike Riddle and Whistler resident Justin Dorey are both back as part of the A Group, too, while the B Group is filled out by Matt Margetts, Noah Bowman and Kris Atkinson.

The past winter saw d'Artois rack up career-best results as the season rolled along, including his first-ever podium in an AFP World Tour platinum-level event, his first Winter X Games appearance and first top-five finish in a World Cup. All of those results helped him earn the new designation on the team.

"(Those) results put me in a good spot," he said. "It's going to be a good season next year — a little less competitions, which is exciting. We'll have more time to train and work on our runs, and I kind of want to change some things up in terms of my skiing."

Last season, d'Artois established a Pursu.it fundraising campaign and reached out to Whistler residents and businesses to help cover the costs of travelling with the team. With his new A Group status, that doesn't look to be necessary this winter, and d'Artois said he's thankful for all the support he received — and pleased he was able to deliver for those who believed in him.

"The whole community really pulled through and helped me end up where I am. It's a pretty amazing feeling to have that much support behind you," he said.

Rosalind Groenewoud, Keltie Hansen and Megan Gunning will all return to the women's halfpipe A Group, but the team has brought another local into the fold in Cassie Sharpe.

Sharpe, who is originally from Comox but has spent her winters based in Whistler, joins the roster as a B Group skier after her tremendous 2013-14 season. She finished the year ranked third overall in the AFP standings, thanks to nine consecutive podium finishes in World Tour events between January and April.

"It's unreal, honestly," said Sharpe. "Being on the national team has been a goal since I was a kid, so to do really well last year, then have them call me to add me on to the team, was really, really wonderful."

Whistler's Yuki Tsubota will return to the women's slopestyle squad as a member of the B Group, coming off a season in which she placed sixth during the sport's Olympic debut. Sochi medallists Dara Howell and Kim Lamarre, plus four-time X Games champ Kaya Turski make up the A Group.

Nikki Blackall and Anouk Purnelle-Faniel, both of whom had excellent 2013-14 seasons, join Tsubota in the B Group. Blackall and Purnelle-Faniel were the top two finishers at the AFP World Championships in Whistler in April.

The men's slopestyle winner at the AFP World Championships also earned a national team spot, as Evan McEachran made the Canadian squad's A Group for next season alongside veterans Alex Beaulieu-Marchand and Alex Bellemarre. Noah Morrison of Vernon is the lone B Group skier.

HICKS RETIRES FROM MOGULS TEAM

Although Olympic moguls champ Alex Bilodeau has retired, the Canadian men's and women's squads look extremely strong with the three other Sochi medallists returning to lead the squad — Mikael Kingsbury, and Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe.

A new local addition to the team is Whistler's own Brenden Kelley, who is one of six skiers who was given a spot in the development group.

But one other local who has been a mainstay on the team for the past several seasons, Eddie Hicks, is not returning. Hicks decided to retire in the spring, and will look to continue pursuing his long-term goal of graduating from business school.

The 26-year-old said the financial strain that comes with travelling the World Cup circuit played a role in his decision to step away from the team. Although the potential of competing at the 2015 world championships before retiring was enticing, Hicks said he's able to leave the sport having accomplished his goals.

"When I look back at what 10- or 11-year-old me wanted, it was to be a World Cup skier," he said. "My other big goal was to be top 10, and I did that.

"It was a great career for me... I've been so lucky to ski with the guys I've been able to ski with, and to be on the best team in the world for so long is a pretty amazing thing."

Hicks won the Nor-Am Cup season title in 2011 and had his best World Cup campaign the following year, finishing 10th overall. He earned nine top-10 finishes on the World Cup circuit in his career, including two fourth-place finishes in duals events. He looked to be a contender for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team until injuries during the qualification period over the past two seasons derailed his Sochi bid.

"The excitement, the nervousness... everything about competing was so much fun and so awesome, and I loved being immersed in that," he said. "I'll miss the guys, too, my teammates and my coaches."

The CFSA also named its aerials team, which will include Travis Gerritts, Olivier Rochon, Jean-Christophe André and Sabrina Guérin in the World Cup group. Lewis Irving and Melissa Corbo will make up the development squad.

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