Patrick Switzer arrived without much of a track record at the Whistler Longboard Festival, but he left with the weekend's biggest prize.
The Canadian skater was unbeatable during the International Downhill Federation World Cup open downhill race held Saturday, July 5, on the Whistler Sliding Centre service road, winning all of his heats one day after qualifying with the second-fastest time.
"I've done very poorly here the two years previous, to the point where I wasn't sure if I should come back," said the Vancouver-based Switzer, who's originally from Ontario. "The first year, I slid out and crashed; the second year, I was just too slow.
"This year worked so well. I'm consistent in the wet and just dialled in the track this year."
Top qualifier and defending champion Jimmy Riha skated into second place in the open final, while Pemberton resident Benjamin Dubreuil finished third.
With rain falling periodically through the weekend, skaters were faced with a wet track for many of the qualifying runs and heats, adding an extra wrinkle to the race. Switzer opted for wheels with a tire-like tread to combat the water on the track, which helped him to the $3,250 grand prize.
"It completely changes the track, everything," Switzer said of the wet conditions.
The 27-year-old seemed to get the jump on his competitors in each of the six-man heats down the hairpin-filled track, including the final. While past editions of the Whistler Longboard Festival open final have been controversial, with lead changes and bumping between skaters, Switzer wasn't pressured too much on Saturday, having time to look back over his shoulder coming back around the last curve to see the big gap he had built over Riha and Dubreuil.
"I was out front every round I had today... and was like, 'How? How am I doing this?'" laughed Switzer, the world's top-ranked downhill skater in 2011. "I was hoping that would stay until the finals, and it did."
California's Riha, who posted the top qualifying time on Friday, said he was amazed by Switzer's ability to get the hole shot every heat.
"I think Patrick is some kind of superhuman and just has a crazy kick," said Riha.
"Overall, I'm stoked still on second."
Having posted top-two finishes in Whistler in back-to-back years, Riha said the resort course seems to set up well for him because it's similar to a spot where he rides back home.
"I've got a hill back in California that has similar conditions and hairpins," Riha said with a cheque for $1,750 in hand. "I just try to take the same skill and apply it to a different hill and see where it goes."
Last year, Riha arrived in Whistler without much support, but the 2013 victory helped propel him to a number of sponsorships and out of some debt.
"It's been a wild ride," the skater known as "Rad Train" said of the past 12 months. "I've learned a lot of lessons in the last year and I'm really stoked to see what happens in the future."
Dubreuil's third-place finish made him the first-ever local skater to get on the festival's open downhill podium. He battled with Riha for the runner-up spot but came up short by about a board's length.
"It was tight all day long," said Dubreuil. "At the end — Jimmy's my friend — I tried to do something (to catch him), but to both be on the podium is nice.
"We're all friends. It's just nice to be racing with your buddies."
Like Switzer, Dubreuil hadn't been very successful in Whistler before, going out in the second round two years ago, and failing to qualify in 2013.
"Maybe the rain was good," he laughed.
Calgary's Elena Corrigall, the reigning world champion, defended her title in the women's race, repeating her win in Whistler from a year ago by holding off American skater Emily Pross and Switzerland's Tamara Prader.
Curt Watts, who also placed fifth in the open final, made it a Canadian sweep of the major downhill podiums by finishing first in the junior race. Fellow Canuck Kurtis Scott was second and U.S. skater Charlie Reid grabbed third.
In street luge, it was Spain's Mikel Echegaray who took the win, sharing the podium with Americans Andy Lally and David Dean.
Festival action continued Sunday, July 6, with distance races at Whistler Olympic Park, including the return of the Skate + Shoot biathlon event. Sean Young posted the fastest time overall at 23 minutes, 45 seconds, to win the open class by a full minute over Troy Yardwaste. Daniel Silberstein, who shot cleanly at the range, finished third.
Karson Leigh (26:43) had the fourth-fastest time overall while winning the grom class on the 10-kilometre course, while Amie Sheppard (29:32) won the open women's race by just five seconds over Anna O'Neil.
Young also won the 20-km Enduro race, finishing in 38:41.
See www.whistlerlongboard.com for more details.
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