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Whistler freestylers kick off season with silvers

Smart, Ujejski start season off right

Whistler's top young freestylers wrangled some hardware at the first Canada Cup stop of the season in Whitehorse on the weekend.

Chase Ujejski started the season with a second-place finish in the slopestyle contest on Dec. 1. Ujejski scored an 82.80, finishing behind only Quebec's Mathieu Dufresne, who posted an 88.60.

Meanwhile, in the big air contest on Nov. 29, Kai Smart's 87.20 was good for silver behind Quebec's Emile Boutet, who posted a 91.20.

Ujejski's prime focus when he went to the Yukon was the early-season training camp, but he was thrilled to lock down a strong result to kick off the campaign.

"I just trained really hard and things lined up," he said.

One quirk of the Whitehorse competition was that the park is smaller than others that riders face on the tour, making nailing the rails key to victory.

"It was more technical rails and jumps I can consistently do and get good grabs with," Ujejski said. "I don't know if it played to my strengths, but it's fun to have comps that are different.

"I like rail-focused comps as much as I like jump-focused comps. It's fun either way."

Ujejski said the conditions were mostly cooperative, with one day warming up to only minus-15 while the others were a good seven or eight degrees warmer. Combined with only five-and-a-half hours of sunlight per day in that part of the world this time of year, there were some intriguing conditions.

"It was not too cold, but it takes some getting used to," he said. "There's not a lot of sun, so there were later starts and it gets dark pretty early, too."

Ujejski started the year planning to split time between his post-secondary education and ski competition, but put off school to focus on skiing fulltime. With strong early results, including qualifying first in both the slopestyle and big air, Ujejski feels confident about his choice.

"It hypes me up for the rest of the season. For sure, it's a good start and I got some good training in there as well," he said.

However, Ujejski's twin brother Anders had a tougher start to the season, suffering a knee injury.

"Hopefully he'll heal up quick," Chase said.

Also in the slopestyle, Whistler's Kai Martin was fifth, while in the women's competition, Skye Clarke, wearing Alberta's colours, took second and Caoimhe Heavey placed fourth.

Smart, meanwhile, landed a double cork 1260 lunge grab in his bigger attempt as he took his own silver.

"I didn't expect that I would do so well with it. In qualifiers, I messed up a bit, with room for improvement, so I was very surprised and excited when I heard what I got," the 17-year-old Smart said.

Smart praised the Mount Sima crew for constructing a jump that made it simple and safe for him to show his best.

"It was one of the better jumps I'll hit in comp this year because the mountain is very park-oriented," he said. "They built a perfect jump and I couldn't ask for more."

Overall this season, Smart will look to complete the Canada Cup circuit while attending as many NorAm Cup events as possible without impacting his schooling. With six NorAm Cup contests under his belt, Smart isn't looking for any specific goals, and is instead just hoping to raise his game.

"I just want to put down some runs, land all my tricks and hopefully do as well as I can," he said.

Smart will also try to do some filming to "keep all the options open."




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