While members of the Whistler Freeride Club are thrilled to take part in the IFSA North American Junior Freeride Championships at Whistler Blackcomb this weekend, there may not be a huge advantage at play.
For Olivia McNeill, who has pulled off three wins this season, her preparation for events regardless of where they're held doesn't change all that much. One win was in Whistler at the GoPro Junior Freeski Challenge last month, while she also took wins in Fernie and Revelstoke this year.
Without knowing exactly what she'll be given the opportunity to ski at this weekend's event, which sees competition running from April 7 to 9, McNeill acknowledged thinking too much can come into play when she gets to see the course.
"They haven't set the boundaries yet and nothing's for certain," the 15-year-old said. "I haven't noticed too much of a difference, honestly, having it at home because our last competition in Whistler just a few weeks ago was on home turf... We just had a lot of time to consider different lines and in other places, we just have to choose a line and stick with it.
"The success rate hasn't been too different."
Still, after going to Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah and Grand Targhee Resort in Wyoming in previous years, McNeill is happy to show off her skills in her own backyard, especially as the premier event of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival's opening weekend.
"It's nice to know your way around, though I do enjoy exploring and learning the new mountains too," she said.
Meanwhile, Rhegan Williamson noted the locals will get a boost when they compete here, but those who will be travelling from all over the continent qualified for a reason.
"It definitely gives us a homefield advantage. We're able to train and look at the venue more than other teams," she said. "But the other teams come at it looking with a new eye."
Williamson, who got her start as a ski racer before making her freeride debut last season, said regardless of getting a practical advantage or not, having other hometown boosts are certainly welcome.
"It means a lot growing up in this town and spending every single weekend skiing," she said. "It's finally paying off to something so big and it's quite exciting."
The highlight of Williamson's season was a first place in Stevens Pass, Wash. at Jim Jack's Cowboy Up. Though it was a smaller field, admittedly, Williamson still had to best those who were there. She put together the run she needed to accomplish just that.
"My coach Jen Ashton was super awesome and supportive and helped me pick out a creative line. Everything lined up that day," she said.
Being relatively new to freeride, Williamson said she's still on a steep part of the learning curve and is still learning how to win.
"I came from more of a racing background, so I definitely have more of a technical skiing style — more carving and throwing out that sort of approach. Drops are more new to me and that came with the whole freeride team and it's been awesome learning that last year and this year," she said. "I'm starting to get more comfortable with those, definitely this season and going into comps."
McNeill, meanwhile, is more of a veteran and embraces a high-risk, high-reward style, admittedly modelling herself after more of her male counterparts. While she doesn't need to take that approach at this level, it's good practice for when she's at a higher level. Besides, she finds her approach more enjoyable.
"Girls are very good skiers, but sometimes they don't ski as challenging features as some other people might," she said. "You don't necessarily need to do that (ski challenging lines) to win a competition with the girls because most of us aren't doing that.
"I just enjoy doing them because it's a bit scary but it's a lot more fun."
While her goal is to come first this weekend, she's more content to take a risk on her run and leave it in the judges' hands.
In all, 160 skiers aged 12 to 18 have been invited from all over the continent to compete.
All action will take place in the Diamond Bowl. The Bite is slated as a back-up venue if needed.
Awards will be handed out after the April 9 finals at 5:30 p.m. at the WSSF main stage in Skier's Plaza.
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