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Style matters to Freestyle Whistler skier Jude Oliver

The 13-year-old is coming off a decorated season at the BC Winter Games and Timber Tour
Freestyle Whistler skier Jude Oliver (left) with coach Brandon Fritz, a.k.a. Fritzy.

Don’t let his youth fool you: Jude Oliver knows his stuff.

At 13 years old, the Whistlerite already thinks about his chosen sport at a high level. While casual viewers tend to be blown away by big tricks with lots of rotations, he has an eye for detail—putting the “style” back in “freestyle skiing,” if you will.

“It matters if you’re controlled in the air. Stomping [your trick] really hard is way better than landing it, kind of, and then slipping out,” Oliver explained. “And say if you’re competing at the X Games and you ‘tickle the grab,’ which means you barely touch [your skis], it scores you way less.

“If you land a switch dub 10 with a clean Japan grab, it would score way more than a switch dub 21 with no grab.”

That’s gibberish to anyone who doesn’t follow freestyle skiing, so allow me to explain. A 10 (or 1080) is a trick where an athlete performs three full rotations, and a 21 (or a 2160) is six full rotations. It took until the 2022 X Games for any skier—that athlete being Alex Hall of the United States—to successfully land a 2160 in competition. That’s how hard it is.

Yet, Hall’s sport-defining surge into history was only rewarding because he executed his grab, locking both hands firmly onto one ski while in the air. Amplitude and spectacle are not enough in the freestyle world—one must also be technically sound, and grabs are an important way to prove that.

Style and substance

Oliver understands the importance of proper execution on course, which is why he and fellow Whistler athlete Emma Horn were named this year’s recipients of Freestyle BC’s “Style Matters” award.

A press release promoting the accolade reads as follows: “The most stylish skier makes it look like they are flowing down the mountain, casually dancing with gravity at death-defying speeds while being entirely in control.”

Neither Oliver nor his family saw the award coming, yet he and Horn were honoured during a late February Timber Tour event in Fernie.

Perhaps carrying some extra confidence, the young Whistlerite struck double gold at the BC Winter Games in slopestyle and big air, his favourite disciplines. Two other Sea to Sky youths joined him on those podiums: Elijah Krumme took silver in slopestyle and Mavrik MacKinnon came through with big air bronze.

Next, Oliver concluded his campaign decisively with a three-medal showing at SilverStar Mountain Resort for the Timber Tour’s BC Championships. Again he emerged victorious in big air, while locking up slopestyle silver just ahead of Squamish native Krumme.

Oliver also earned bronze in moguls, an event he admits he’s not fond of.

“I was definitely very surprised,” he said. “I was putting something away in the garbage, and I just heard my name be called. And I was like: wait, isn’t this the moguls category? How did I do this? Oh my gosh!”

Yet for Oliver, winning isn’t the whole picture. He views competitions as a great way to connect with friends old and new. Furthermore, he values his overall progression as a skier more than individual medals.

The hardware is a bonus, but it’s the journey that matters most.

“We’re always super proud of Jude,” said Oliver’s mom, Louise. “You know, those medals don’t come easily. He puts in a lot of hard work. It’s not like he just shows up and wings it.”

Up and coming

Oliver joined Freestyle Whistler shortly after his first contact with the sport at the age of six. He has blossomed under the tutelage of veteran coaches like Brandon Fritz (a.k.a. Fritzy) and Connor Broderick alongside other talented youngsters like Krumme, MacKinnon, Ty Reichert and Jacob Martin. (Reichert and Martin finished eighth and 10th, respectively, at the BC Winter Games slopestyle event).

“Fritzy definitely is an inspiration and a good role model because he’s always super hyped to be on the hill, same as Connor,” said Oliver. “Even if me or my teammates are down, they’re always just willing to pick us back up and be like: OK, you’re not having the greatest time doing this trick right now. Go ahead and try a different one that you’ll have fun with and come back to it later.”

In addition to Fritzy and Broderick, Oliver looks up to Olympic-calibre standouts like Mac Forehand, Jesper Tjäder, and Hall—who coached him at Momentum Ski Camps last summer. Another role model is Aidan Mulvihill, a Freestyle Whistler alum who now competes for Team BC.

Louise admits to getting scared, watching her son throw himself off of jumps and rails. Despite that, she has acclimated well to being a freestyle parent.

“I was at all the competitions Jude went to this season, and I forced myself to keep my eyes open,” she said. “I’m definitely buddies with Stephen and Cheryl, Ty [Reichert’s] parents, which has been great. And you put your trust in the other kids as well. There’s a big camaraderie on the hill, and they look after each other.

“You know, Jude loves [freestyle] and I can’t bubble wrap him. I support him, 1,000 per cent.”

Truly a burgeoning contender, Oliver already has a double 1260 and a switch double 900 (each featuring a safety grab) in his bag of tricks. His next goal is lofty: master the triple-cork 1440.