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Photos: Whistler hosts first-ever World Ski and Snowboard Festival Rail Jam

Sharpe and Baird triumph among snowboarders; Geoffroy-Gagnon and Urness win skiing titles

The Cut Rail Jam, a brand-new addition to the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF) lineup, is in the books. 

As a unique item on the sporting landscape, the Rail Jam highlighted both skiers and snowboarders in a slopestyle-inspired showcase of creativity and technical prowess. Forty contestants from all backgrounds dropped in on Saturday, April 13, from X Games gold medallist Darcy Sharpe to 12-year-old local skier Agness Friesen. 

Sharpe and 2022 Olympian Jasmine Baird each clinched a snowboarding title, while Etienne Geoffroy-Gagnon prevailed among male skiers as the only athlete to attempt (and land) a spectacular backflip. His fellow national teamer Naomi Urness emerged victorious in women’s skiing with quality runs throughout the bluebird afternoon. 

“I think I started pretty strong and got a little soggy near the end, but I’m always pretty critical of myself,” said Sharpe, who had to skip practice and ease himself into competition due to a thumb injury. “Mainly, it's just fun riding with the crew. Format was super fun.” 

Adds Baird: “I was stoked to take the win and it was really cool to compete here at home because all the homies were out either watching or competing too—having us all hyping each other up definitely added to the good energy. Had a great time celebrating after with everyone too, and the first-place cash definitely doesn't hurt!” 

Rest assured: the youngsters did not look out of place.

Amalia “Billy” Pelchat pulled up second, displaying confidence and snowboarding skill well beyond her 16 years on Earth. Avery Krumme locked down runner-up position at 15 years old between Urness and Canadian NextGen athlete Skye Clarke, who was third. 

Others in the top three included Phil Gaucher (second, men’s skiing), Luke Smart (third, men’s skiing), Bailey Birkkjaer (third, ladies’ snowboarding), Josh Lebrun (second, men’s snowboarding) and Cameron Spalding (third, men’s snowboarding). 

“Third was surprising to me,” remarked Nor-Am Cup veteran Smart. “I got into the competition last-minute because some people dropped out. Stoked to have that opportunity and put down some runs.” 

Each podium finisher received a custom Skullcandy wireless speaker and the same payout regardless of gender: champions got $3,500, while second place netted $1,000, and third yielded $500. 

Savage shredders 

When asked about the Rail Jam’s various young talents, Smart quipped: “The sport is crazy now. Kids are savages.” 

He’s right. 

Krumme caught fire at the beginning of her season and has yet to be extinguished. The Squamolian earned bronze at Junior Worlds in Livigno, Italy and double gold at Nationals on home snow in addition to five Canada Cup medals. 

Pelchat enjoyed a solid campaign herself, with Nor-Am silver in Sun Peaks and a fourth-place Junior Worlds slopestyle effort to go with a pair of top-20 results at Gangwon’s Winter Youth Olympics.

“The Rail Jam was not as stressful [as most competitions], especially being able to do it with your friends and push each other,” said Pelchat. “I'm good friends with Jasmine Baird and she was super supportive. All the girls there were super supportive.” 

A special shout-out goes to Friesen and her Sea to Sky peer Lyra Xu. Both were originally alternates, but received a chance to compete—and impressively, neither was eliminated in qualifying. Friesen’s day ended in the semifinals, but Xu made it all the way to the five-woman final. 

“Just a little bit,” admitted the 15-year-old snowboarder when asked if she felt nervous about riding against professionals. “But I was excited to meet them.” 

Xu’s coach, Simon Fraser, was unsurprised at her performance.

“Lyra’s been working really hard this season … and going into this year, her mentality has completely changed. She knows what she's out here trying to do and she's not going to take any breaks until she either fights to the death or lands perfectly.” 

‘Why we love the sport’ 

Whistler is one of the globe’s top snowsport destinations and a fitting backdrop for an event like the Rail Jam. In Sharpe’s eyes, it’s a much-needed step in the right direction. 

“Our community is built on ski and snowboard culture, and we don't have any sick spring events left locally,” opined the Olympian. “Not trying to sound harsh, but that's the reality of it. We used to have Grenade Games; we’ve had world-class slopestyles in Blackcomb Park, and none of that happens anymore. 

“Big thanks to the organizers, [contest director] Jen Girardi, the sponsors and the community for making the Rail Jam happen. Hopefully they see value in it and do it bigger because I think it's good to have this associated with Whistler’s name.” 

A dearth of snow in the valley prompted organizers to relocate the Rail Jam to the top of the Emerald 6 Express Chair on a few days’ notice. Girardi explained in a press release: “It was a tough but necessary call to move the event out of Skiers Plaza. Our goal was to run a ski and snowboard contest for the Whistler community and it was a huge success. We can’t wait to make it bigger and better in 2025.”

Varying temperaments could be found among the athletes. Some, like Baird, are always competitive and had their eyes on the prize from the first practice run. Others like Smart and Pelchat allowed themselves to relax a tad more and bask in their day on the mountain. All came away appreciating the novel experience. 

“Usually ski and snowboard events don't run together, but I think having both in the Rail Jam was a good call,” said Baird. “It allowed for the event to always have someone dropping in, alternating skier and boarder, instead of having to wait for the judges. I think that brought more energy and hype overall and didn't let the crowd get bored.

“Myself and so many others in Whistler have basically dedicated our whole lives to skiing and snowboarding. Hosting events like The Cut have a huge impact on the community because it gets people stoked, especially the younger generation when they get to watch pros compete and say ‘I want to do that!’ It just brings people together and reminds us all of why we love the sport so much.”