Whistler-based snowboarders made their presence felt at the 2023 Canada Winter Games from Feb. 18 to March 5, coming home with eight out of 24 available medals in slopestyle, big air and boardercross. Amalia Pelchat led the way with three pieces of hardware, followed by Tosh Krauskopf with a pair. Hannah Turkington, Kai Hooper and Anthony Shelly earned one medal apiece.
Ultimately, BC Snowboard fell just two podium results short of its perennial rival, Team Quebec.
“I have never seen a more dominant performance from B.C. athletes in snowboarding,” said provincial team assistant coach Meghan Hebert. “Our biggest competitor in all fronts is Quebec, so for us to come in behind them just two medals shy was a really positive ending.”
Pelchat got the ball rolling on Feb. 28 at Mark Arendz Provincial Ski Park in Brookvale, P.E.I. She finished sixth in slopestyle qualifying but found another gear in the finals as the only athlete in her field to break 80 points. Pelchat soared to her first gold medal with an impressive performance (83.67) over Francophone Juliette Vallerand (78.80) and Ontarian Avery Spalding (63.00).
That same day, Krauskopf—who hails from Smithers but trains full-time with the Whistler Valley Snowboard Club—took silver in men’s slopestyle with an 85.13-point effort. He was sandwiched on the podium by Eli Bouchard (87.67) and Laurent Ethier (84.67) of Quebec.
Turkington and Hooper both shined on March 3, prevailing in the women’s and men’s snowboard cross events respectively.
“Hannah and Kai are very different,” Hebert explained. “Kai is very reserved and inwardly competitive, very competitive with himself. Hannah’s very [outwardly] competitive and a very dominant force, especially at such a young age. It’s cool to see how they’ve really prepared and grown into who they are now.”
Two more Whistlerites joined Turkington and Hooper on the snowboard cross podiums. Pelchat edged out Quebec’s Rose Savard Ferguson for bronze among women, while Shelly won silver in the men’s big final behind Hooper and ahead of another Francophone, Olivier Gange.
Although Pelchat is known as a versatile athlete who trades powder days for skate parks in summer, she does not actively train for boardercross. That didn’t stop her from besting many of Canada’s top young athletes in that discipline.
“Her talents aren’t limited to just riding freestyle,” said Hebert. “I think it’s also a testament to what we have in our backyard … [training in Whistler] transfers over to being able to find speed in places that people don’t think you can find speed because you just know how to read terrain.
“And for Amalia, you can see that she’s a competitor. I think that comes from competing with her sister [Juliette] and having a good group around her. They lift each other up and they push each other.”
Pelchat would again save her best for last on March 4 in the big air contest. She was fourth after qualifying, but managed to stomp jumps of 71.00 and 92.40 points in two of her final three attempts. The math added up to 163.40 points and another gold medal.
Vallerand checked in for second (160.60) and Albertan Felicity Geremia wound up a somewhat distant third (102.00).
On the men’s side, Krauskopf would grab bronze after two jumps of 89.20 and 88.40 for a total of 177.60 points. Again, he stood on the podium with Bouchard, the victor (188.60) and runner-up Ethier (180.80).
According to Hebert, Krauskopf was a stabilizing influence on the team that supported and balanced out some of his fierier compatriots. “Tosh is pretty quiet, a little reserved, or at least that’s what I saw,” Hebert said. “When he’s ready to drop in, you can see that he’s focused, and he kind of brought that focus to the team … making sure that [his teammates] were not stressed out.”
A continuing legacy
To say that Hebert is proud of her team would be an understatement. She has seen multiple generations of B.C. snowboarders achieve great things, and each one is special to her.
Hebert’s own journey began in 2008, when she moved to Whistler from Ontario. After discovering a love of snowboarding through women’s programs offered by Whistler Blackcomb, the Orangeville native had a stint as a boardercross athlete on Team BC before realizing that coaching was her true passion.
In 2015, Hebert attended her first Canada Winter Games as a coach in Prince George. There, she supported Meryeta O’Dine and Evan Bichon as they claimed that year’s snowboard cross titles. O’Dine is now a two-time Olympic bronze medallist, and Bichon an established national teamer who served as an alternate in Beijing.
Four years later, Hebert was on hand in Red Deer to coach Juliette Pelchat and Maggie Crompton to silver medals in slopestyle and halfpipe, respectively.
Nowadays, Hebert owns and operates the North Shore Snowboard Team to create more jobs in the sport regionally. She also has the current crop of promising provincial-team talent to work with.
“I’m extremely proud of these kids,” she said. “Seeing all of them not just flourish in their performances, but push themselves out of their comfort levels, rise to the occasion ... and find this new confidence in themselves, is probably what I’m most proud of.”