Wilson makes surprise World Cup debut 

15-year-old holds her own at New Zealand event

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JEREMY COOPER - on the rise Local skier Mackenzie Wilson is shown in action in Cardrona, New Zealand.
  • Photo by Jeremy Cooper
  • on the rise Local skier Mackenzie Wilson is shown in action in Cardrona, New Zealand.

Mackenzie Wilson initially thought she was just going over to New Zealand for a training camp to get prepared for the 2015-16 season.

How quickly things can change.

Once over there, the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association let the 15-year-old Whistler resident take part in the season-opening World Cup halfpipe event in Cardrona. Wilson, who joined the Calgary WinSport Academy team this season, was tagging along with the B.C. Ski Team in New Zealand.

"A couple days before we were leaving, my coach (Jeremy Cooper) called me and told me that since the national team wasn't going, I could have a spot in the World Cup (event) if I wanted to," she said. "I wasn't sure if I was going to compete or not, but then I got there and I skied through the halfpipe and I thought I would give it a shot."

Wilson, who has three top-10 finishes on the NorAm Cup circuit including a second-place showing, explained the conditions in New Zealand were perfect and the pipe was one of the best she'd ever skied — "I was just having a lot of fun and I didn't want to stop skiing on the days everyone else was competing."

Coach Cooper was a bit more apprehensive, noting Wilson missed most of the 2014-15 season while rehabbing an injury.

"My thoughts on that were more training-focused just to get her confidence and her skills back up. I did have a few conversations with her about doing the event or not doing the event," he recalled. "She said 'Just keep my name in there and as we get closer to the competition, if I feel like doing it, I'll give it a shot.'

"We weren't going to close that door before we got there and she had a chance to ski the halfpipe again and get a feel for it."

Once Wilson made up her mind to compete, though, there were a few wrenches thrown into her plan. She said she got the flu the day before qualifiers, but opted to tough it out.

"I wasn't sure if I'd be able to make it through the day, but I managed to. I did my first run and it was good, and then I fell on my second run, so I didn't have very high expectations," she said. "My coach skied down and said 'They're taking six girls to finals, and you're in sixth' so I was really excited.

"I had the next day of training, which went well, and then during training for finals, I ended up crashing and hurting my shoulder pretty badly. I didn't know if I was going to compete then."

Even with the injury, Wilson ultimately decided to do a single run to say she competed in a World Cup final.

"It wasn't the one I wanted to compete, but I still did it. And I ended up getting lots of prize money and got some cool publicity," she said.

Wilson acknowledged having a couple star-struck moments, particularly when meeting Squamish competitor Roz Groenewoud, who finished just a spot ahead of her in fifth. Groenewoud was the only other Canadian in the event and was a former coach of Wilson's at Momentum Ski Camps.

"It didn't really hit me until I was there and I was training. All the professional skiers that I look up to were around me and I was like 'How did I get here?'" she recalled.

Cooper was impressed with how Wilson handled herself, "calm and cool in the gate," while lining up against some veteran skiers at the event.

"She was really relaxed and didn't place any huge expectations on herself to perform," he said. "The goal of the event was for her to have fun and get a taste back for what halfpipe competition was like because she was really keen to get back into it.

"She was boosting very high, had great amplitude on her jumps and she put enough grabs and tricks together to put her in sixth spot and made it into the World Cup final. I'm really happy for her performance and it's a sign of things to come."

Cooper stressed Wilson has an impressive bag of tricks with 540s, mute grabs and safety grabs that are performed in ways different from what most others can display.

"She's five, six, seven feet out of the pipe where most girls are just getting two or three feet out of the pipe," Cooper said. "It earns her that impression score from the judges. Bigger is better, right?"

Cooper also lauded Wilson's smoothness between tricks, which can be an underrated element of a skier's run.

"She'll hit one wall. She'll boost up into the air. She'll land nice and solid and ski through to the other side of the pipe, almost like a surfer surfing a wave," Cooper said.

Wilson said she's fully recovered from her injuries and illness and is prepared to forge ahead with training for the season. She's set to return to New Zealand for another Cardrona camp beginning on Sept. 20.

Her next competition will come on the NorAm Cup circuit on Dec. 18 and 19 at Copper Mountain.


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