One could be forgiven for believing Sofia Tchernetsky is much older than her 13 years.
Already the 32nd-ranked women's slopestyle skier in the Association of Freeskiing Professionals' rankings (and 54th overall), Tchernetsky stands to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
This past season, her first focusing exclusively on larger and international-level competitions, the Whistler resident won twice and took a third on the Quebec-based Step Up Tour to finish as the top woman overall.
But Tchernetsky said her most impressive feat of the year came at an event where she wasn't officially competing. Too young to officially be part of the tour, Tchernetsky was still allowed to demonstrate what she could do as a forerunner. With Canadian team brass watching, her accomplishments in one run were greater than what some older and more experienced competitors, some being in their early 20s, pulled off in three.
"They tried to get me in, but I can't (compete). They wanted to see how I would do for the national team, which would help me for the next year. I hit the biggest jump out of everybody and I got the first-place score. Unofficially, I got first place. I couldn't get the prize or anything," she said.
It was a score that was well earned, she said, as she felt completely comfortable with the Mont St. Louis Moonstone setup in Ontario. It was a feeling that clearly translated in her run.
"That was a big stepping stone for me because the jumps were huge. They were probably bigger than Blackcomb (terrain park) in Whistler," she said, noting the jumps were roughly 70 to 75 feet (21 to 23 metres). "I was the only girl who hit the big jumps and did tricks on it. There was an option B, a smaller jump, and (the other girls) hit the smaller jump. One other girl, she hit the big jump, too, but she only did straight air, and I did cork sevens and misties on the big jump."
Tchernetsky said she loves both the jumps and rails on slopestyle courses, and is constantly striving for new and different ways to incorporate them into her runs.
"I've been looking for a whole bunch of new tricks and this year I've put together the biggest run I've ever done in my whole life," she said.
In 2014-15, Tchernetsky did a mix of big competitions and smaller ones, taking the top spot on the podium nine of the 12 contests she entered.
Tchernetsky's dreams include a quick ascent — she's eying the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea as a strong possibility while hoping to take part in Dew Tour and the X Games as early as next season.
"I'll be 15 (for the Olympics). I'll be still young, but I'm very feisty," she said. "I would like to win gold medals in the X Games and the Dew Tour as well.
"Next year, I'm going for top five in the AFP rankings."
Whistler-Blackcomb Freestyle Ski Club assistant head coach Mike Richards has worked with Tchernetsky since she was nine and saw potential even then.
"She's always been an amazingly talented athlete, but this was a big year for her because she put some size on, and some strength. She was able to hit bigger jumps and go to bigger events," he said. "The tricks we've been working on for the last little while are for a bigger stage and bigger jumps."
Richards confirmed Tchernetsky is in the national team's sights, calling her the "complete package" of bravery and brains.
"She does have that fearless attitude, for sure, which is awesome," he said. "She's a really smart athlete with her training, with the jumps she's going to hit on the right day in the right conditions."
WBFSC enjoyed first year with high performance focus
When Jeff Fairbairn joined Whistler-Blackcomb Freestyle Ski Club as head coach leading up to the 2015-16 season, he had some changes in mind.
With a desire to make the most of the fine freestyle terrain the club already enjoys, Fairbairn gave the club's skiers the chance to reach for the next level without going the same distances the B.C. Development Team does.
"We wanted to adopt more of a high performance structure in the club," he said. "We wanted a structured atmosphere where we could really take more control in moving our kids up the ladder in the rankings and also in the sport of freestyle."
The pinnacle of the season came at a March WIN Canada Cup event in Stoneham, Que. In the slopestyle competition, Chase Ujejski finished in 10th, just a spot behind fellow Whistler local and provincial team member Luke Smart. Anders Ujejski, meanwhile, was 13th.
"They did amazingly well considering the competition they were up against. They were skiing against athletes on the provincial teams and did quite well and beat some of them so that was amazing," he said. "But more importantly, it gave the kids a little more drive, a little more something to work towards stepping up their game.
"Being in an event where there are higher-level athletes, it definitely pushes their game up. They work harder because now they're witnessing what needs to be done to move up and eventually to get to the national team."
With an inkling of what they were capable of on that level, Fairbairn observed the athletes becoming more dedicated their the craft.
"They'll be going to the gym on a regular basis whereas before stuff like that would rarely happen. They're taking it more seriously and taking more pride in their work. All the extra time they're putting into it, they're going in there with more appreciation of what needs to happen to get the goals that they want," he said.
With spring training set to begin soon, Fairbairn hopes to see growth in the "promising" path on which they've started, noting that bigger, in this case, indeed will be better.
"Our numbers could increase. It's too early to tell right now, but I feel confident moving forward," he said. "It's just going to come down to what the appetite is for the athletes and their families is to keep pushing to the next level."
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