Austria brought the best team, but Max was magnificent.
When the 22nd annual Whistler Cup wrapped up Sunday, April 6, it was the visiting Austrians who took home the U16 Nations Cup after dominating the three days of international youth ski races in the resort. But the local club had reason to celebrate as well, with Max Kirshenblatt claiming the U16 Dave Murray Award as the top Canadian male skier during the event.
"It was kind of a surprise," Kirshenblatt said after collecting the trophy during Sunday's closing ceremonies in Whistler Village. "I'm happy to win it, and it feels good at the end of a long season... it's a cool feeling."
Kirshenblatt skied to a third-place finish in the event-opening super-G on Friday, April 4, as well as a 13th-place result in Sunday's giant slalom. The Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WMSC) athlete — also a member of Team Canada for the weekend — was the first-run leader in his slalom race on Saturday, but skied out on the second run.
Competing in his final Whistler Cup, Kirshenblatt had said beforehand that he was hopeful to win the super-G and follow in the footsteps of fellow WMSC product Jack Crawford, who won the U16 men's race in 2013. Though he finished a few tenths behind winner Manuel Traninger of Austria, he ended up following Crawford after all, as the two will now have their names engraved right next to each other on the Dave Murray Award's trophy.
"I was not even half a second behind two of the Austrian national champions, so that's definitely pretty cool," Kirshenblatt said of his super-G result.
Quebec's Beatrix Lever earned the U16 Nancy Greene Award as the top Canadian female, highlighted by her fourth-place finish in super-G.
"I'm very, very happy," said Lever, who was competing in her first Whistler Cup. "This year, we really focused on super-G training and I think that really helped. I just came in with the right mindset."
The Norwegian and Canadian U16 squads posted some strong results during the weekend, finishing second and third, respectively, in the Nations Cup standings. But neither nation was in the same league as the Austrians, who were absolutely unbeatable this year.
Traninger and teammate Thomas Dorner skied to one-two finishes in all three disciplines, with Dorner winning the boys' technical events, while the Austrian girls' group was equally impressive. Viktoria Habersatter won the giant slalom and super-G, while teammate Nadine Fest won the slalom as Austria claimed five out of the nine girls' medals.
"They performed great. All six of them skied well and were fighting to win," said Austrian coach Harald Reiter. "They push each other up to the top, and that's just perfect.
"(Did) I expect it? Of course, I wanted (us to win,) but we didn't know how big the competition would be. Some of the other nations were very strong. I didn't know the Canadians, so they were the big question mark for me... We were just a little stronger."
The WMSC's Rob Boyd coached Team Canada, a group of 18 top skiers from across the country, including Kirshenblatt and Whistler's Finn Iles and Laura Swaffield. Though Kirshenblatt's super-G bronze was the team's lone podium during the weekend, Boyd said he told the team he was proud of their efforts once everything had wrapped up on Sunday.
"The Austrians and Norwegians had some really strong individuals," said Boyd. "(Canada) may have had better performances in the past, but these were very good performances as well."
LOCALS HOLD THEIR OWN
Whistler skiers turned in a number of impressive performances in U16 competition throughout the weekend, posting several top-30 finishes or better to hold their own on their home mountain.
Iles was among the quickest Canadians during the Whistler Cup, finishing ninth in the boys' slalom for the second-best result by a Canadian skier, and also had a 16th-place finish in super-G.
Kasper Woolley, meanwhile, was the best racer from the host nation when placing 10th in Sunday's GS.
"I knew I could do it and I just went for it and pulled it all together today," said Woolley, who also ranked in the top 25 in the super-G and slalom.
The WMSC's Asher Jordan posted a 14th-place finish in GS for his top result, while Griffin Smith finished 19th in slalom as part of his Whistler Cup, which saw him finish in the top 30 for every discipline. Griffin Renzoni and Masashi Tsutsumi each had two results in the top 25, and Eric Lyall and Alexander Valentin earned 30th-place finishes in slalom and GS, respectively.
In girls' competition, Katie Fleckenstein was Whistler's most consistent racer, skiing into 17th place for both the super-G and slalom to accompany her 23rd-place finish in GS. Swaffield notched a pair of top-20 results; her best being 15th in slalom, while Gabrielle Smith had top-30 finishes in both the super-G and GS.
YOUNGER RACERS IMPRESS AT U14 LEVEL
The visiting Japanese team claimed the Nations Cup for the Whistler Cup's U14 competitions, edging the runners-up from Ontario and the third-place B.C. team.
Whistler's own Ella Renzoni had a tremendous weekend, skiing to strong results in the dual slalom on Friday and technical events over Saturday and Sunday, including a silver-medal finish in Saturday's GS. She was also sixth in slalom.
"My goal for the season was to win a Whistler Cup race. I didn't achieve that, but I did have three top-10 finishes, so that was great," said Renzoni.
Another strong performer from the WMSC was Erin Dawson, who placed seventh in GS and 17th in slalom. Maja Woolley, in 13th spot, and Sierra King, in 18th place, also had solid results in the girls' GS.
Meg Swaffield skied well in both GS and slalom, earning top-25 finishes in both, while Arabella Ng, Lucy Tuer and Rosie Smith each had one top-30 finish to their credit during the event.
Jack Forsyth led Whistler's U14 boys by posting a fifth-place finish in GS and an 11th-place result in slalom. He was joined in the GS top 10 on Sunday by clubmate Jake Bennett, who was 10th.
Ethan McTavish skied to 14th place in slalom, while Nathan Romanin placed 20th in GS. Dawson Yates earned two top-30 results and Jack Cormack made it into the top 30 in slalom.
Ontario skiers Will Kornya and Madeline Sullivan were the winners of the U14 Dave Murray and Nancy Greene awards, respectively.
Weather conditions through the weekend created challenges at times for the 400 athletes competing, but the hundreds of Whistler Cup volunteers working the event kept the courses in good shape for racing.
Full results are available online at www.bcalpine.com.