A year ago, local skier Simon d'Artois was paying his own way to compete as a member of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association's B team.
Fast-forward to the present and d'Artois, who turns 23 on Monday, has earned a promotion to the A team with financial support from the CFSA. And on Sunday, d'Artois also had an X Games gold medal dangling from his neck after emerging as the victor in men's halfpipe in Aspen, Colo.
d'Artois, who finished 14th at the event last year, was the only skier to lay down three consistently good runs in the final, setting the tone with a 90.33 score in the opening round and following it up with an 87.66 to hold the pole position with a single run remaining. American Alex Ferreira put the pressure on d'Artois, scoring a 91.66 that eventually gave him the bronze. When d'Artois was given his chance, he shone through putting down an even 93.00 to snag Canada's first ever X Games gold in the men's superpipe, holding off a late challenge from France's Kevin Rolland, who passed Ferriera for silver. Squamish resident Mike Riddle ended up eighth.
"When I got to the bottom of the pipe, it was pretty special for me," he said. "I'm just happy to put it down.
"I definitely thought that Kevin did a good job. I was a little nervous when his board got to the bottom and he stomped his run."
In a run filled with switch skiing, d'Artois punctuated his showing with a gigantic double cork that drew hoots and hollers from those in attendance.
"When you get to the bottom and you've put down three great runs, it's pretty cool to see that," he said. "It's not like it came as a surprise for me that I was able to put it down. It was 'OK, I did it again.' I was super stoked to do it three times in a row, actually."
d'Artois explained being on the CFSA's A team and having fewer financial pressures has freed him up to focus more on his training. At the top of the list, he sought to become a more consistent competitor, something he displayed in spades Sunday afternoon in Aspen.
"The first (run) set the bar, and in the second one, there were a couple little things I could have picked up, and I really put it down on the third one," he said.
d'Artois said he feels he's made some noise on the world scene over his career, but feels he's now served notice that he plans to be a fixture for years to come.
"I would say I've been somewhat of a presence, but to finally grab a gold at X Games, that's just crazy," he said. "It shows people that I'm here."
And he hasn't forgotten everyone that's helped him climb the podium, as he was grateful for those who chipped in some cash to allow him to keep competing last season.
"I wouldn't be here today without the help of all my supporters who have supported me and helped my fundraiser become a success," he said. "It's a pretty big thing for me to be where I am now and I couldn't be more thankful for the people who have backed me."
The great showing for d'Artois capped an encouraging weekend for Canadians in Aspen. Regina snowboarder Mark McMorris won both the big air and slopestyle events, beating out Montreal's Max Parrot in the big air event.
Vernon's Kevin Hill took snowboard-cross gold and Victoriaville, Que.'s Vincent Gagnier did the same in the ski big air event.
Petite-Riviere-St-Francois, Que.'s Dominique Maltais earned the women's snowboard-cross silver.
Meanwhile, Alex Bellemare of Saint-Boniface, Que. and Dara Howell of Huntsville, Ont. took the respective men's and women's ski slopestyle bronze medals.
Parasnowboarder John Leslie, a former Whistler resident now living in Ottawa, was fourth in the adaptive snowboard-cross event, just behind Barrie, Ont.'s Alex Massie.
Meanwhile, over at the FIS Ski and Snowboard World Championships in Kreischberg, Austria, Whistler resident Darcy Sharpe captured silver in the snowboard big air event on Saturday, two days after his older sister Cassie won silver in halfpipe skiing.
Whistler's Marielle Thompson was eighth in the ski-cross event.
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