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Canadian Freeskiing Championships bring top freeskiers to Whistler

Law hopes to elevate skiing and sport The key to winning a big mountain freeskiing contest is to take the hardest lines and make them look easy – which is easier said than done.

Law hopes to elevate skiing and sport

The key to winning a big mountain freeskiing contest is to take the hardest lines and make them look easy – which is easier said than done.

After two days of qualifiers, the Canadian Freeskiing Championship kicks off today (Jan. 9) with a free for all in Blackcomb’s treacherous Ruby Bowl. The winner will be crowned tomorrow after another freeskiing contest in Diamond Bowl.

The event includes the top skiers from the qualifying runs on The Bite and Chainsaw Ridge, and a long list of pre-qualified athletes with high rankings on North American, European and World Tour circuits. As always, Whistler skiers will be well represented.

The contests will get underway at approximately 9:30 a.m. each day, with possible delays for snow and lifts, and wrap up at approximately 2 p.m.

For each run, the judges will give the skiers a score in five categories – line choice, form, technique, aggressiveness and fluidity. A typical line includes a few good drops, steeps and chutes, and exposed routes through rocks and trees. The winners at the end of the championships are the male and female skiers with the highest combined scores over two days.

While it’s good to get an early lead, nothing is over until it’s over. Even if a skier has a poor first run, they still have a chance to come back the next day. Last season Whistler’s Pierre-Yves Leblanc, who was the defending champion, ended a frustrating first run in the middle of the pack. He came back with an incredibly strong second run, posting the second-highest score of the day, and finished in a tie for third place.

Leblanc is sidelined with an injury this season, and will join the judging crew of Jeff Holden Lee Anne Patterson, Joe Lammers and Michel Beaudry. Hugo Harrison, a two-time world champion, is expected to return this year after missing last season due to an injury.

Whistler’s other top skiers to pre-qualify this year include Leif-Zapf Gilje, who was fifth last year, and Jonny Law.

Law was 11 th in Whistler last season, but went on to win the U.S. Freeskiing Championships at Snowbird, Utah and place second at Les Arcs, France. He finished third overall in the International Freeskiers Association (IFSA) world tour.

Although he knows by now that he’s up to the challenge, Law says he still gets nervous before a contest.

"It’s not winning or wondering how I’m going to do that makes me nervous, it’s challenging myself, stepping up my comfort level, and with it the level of anxiety," said Law.

Although people tend to think of competitive freeskiers as a little on the crazy side, Law believes that the skiers that take contests seriously, training and preparing for each run, are the most successful.

"The term I’ve given it is acceptable risk taking – you look at the risks and focus on the opportunities, train hard, and ski hard. The system is set up so the more careless skiers will get weeded out, and the more experienced and knowledgeable big mountain freeskiers move on," he said.

"Most people see our stuff on sports shows like You Gotta See This and Extreme TV, where they show the guys fly over the cliff and wreck themselves. It’s a goal of mine to try and change that impression, to show the skill and hard work a little more and get people to appreciate the skiing for what it is."

Law says he trains in the gym in the off-season, and on the slopes whenever he can, using visualization exercises and focusing techniques to refine his skiing.

"It’s a professional sport when it comes down to the top skiers, and you have to take it seriously," said Law.

Although there is a hometown advantage, Law says he doesn’t practice his runs ahead of time. He won’t even pick a line until the day of the competition, after watching other competitors do their inspections and checking out the conditions. There are a lot of good skiers on the circuit that may be thinking the same think as you, so you have to be open to other options, he says.

For Law, it was a dream to be picked up by his sponsors, Dynastar, North Face, Smith and RED, and to be able to ski competitively at such a high level. It’s also pretty cool to be at the same level as some of the international stars he’s looked up to over the years, he says, and to know that he’s even capable of beating them.

"Two years ago I went through that experience that a lot of people get in the spring, asking myself ‘do I spend another season here, or do something else?’ I decided I wanted to stay and really pursue this, and give it everything I had. I never thought it would happen, but I did everything I could to allow it to happen. To be in this position now is almost too much. It means a lot to be respected by those skiers I’ve looked up to for so long. I get emotional thinking about it."

If you can’t be there to watch the competitions in person, you can follow the events as they unfold on the IFSA Web site at