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Avon second in FWT debut

Junior Worlds wrap: Gascoigne sixth; Bulfone 13th

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When Claudia Avon seriously injured her back in the finals of the Burton U.S. Open in 2010, she thought her contest career was over.

Up until very recently, it was.

But the Pemberton snowboarder found herself with an opportunity to compete in the second stop of the Freeride World Tour (FWT) at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort on Feb. 7, competing in her first major contest in a decade. It went well, as Avon scored a second-place finish with a 71.33 behind France's Marion Haerty (80.00) and ahead of American Erika Vikander.

"At the top, I was a little bit worried about the snow conditions. It was a bit stiff," she said. "It happened really quick. I missed a feature, so it wasn't exactly the run I wanted to do, but I wanted to have fun. I never rode Kicking Horse before and the event was new to me, so really I was looking forward to having fun and having something with good fluidity.

"I went there without any expectations and was just looking to have fun. It turned out great. I could not have expected anything better, really."

Avon described her approach as being all out, so when preparing her run, she sought to balance her ability to charge her line with the ability to do so safely. While there was perfect visibility, the stiffer snow left her liable to going over the nose of her board and getting into trouble.

"I committed to, basically, the centre line of the face. I think what helped me out was the fluidity, just no hesitation," she said. "I went after something that I knew had good snow and I wouldn't have any hesitation going down it. It wasn't necessarily the most technical, but the fact that I could link it up without any hesitation, the judges kind of liked that."

The runner-up showing was particularly impressive for Avon as she had just over a week to prepare. Avon said she knew former FWT competitor Laurent Gauthier, and through him, managed to make a connection with the tour. When a scheduled competitor was injured, she was offered a wild-card spot.

Being a newbie on the tour, however, there were a few growing pains for Avon.

"Luckily, I had my board bag packed and my gear all packed. I went to the contest not even knowing what I had to bring," she said. "I was missing a bunch of stuff like a back protector. They were requesting more safety equipment. I reached out to the rest of the tour and people helped me out."

Being 10 years since her last major competition, after she suffered a compression fracture of her back at the U.S. Open, Avon boarded with little visible rust. She rides plenty locally while participating in some film projects, but is admittedly "low-key" and not overly interested in the social media and marketing side of the sport, another factor that made her surprised to be invited to compete.

"I asked myself questions of what my heart was into and contests wasn't really the way to do it for me. My heart was set in the mountains and I liked freeriding, so I decided that sponsorships or no sponsorships, I'm going to keep doing it for myself," she said. "I stopped all competitions and rode for myself."

After her second-place showing, Avon said she has been invited to join the tour for its remaining three events. However, she had committed to her career as a heavy-machine operator in northern Alberta for the winter and will have to consult with her employer to see if hitting the other competitions is doable.

Avon said that after purchasing a property in Pemberton, this is the first winter that she'd put snowboarding on the backburner, but acknowledged that life sometimes works out in funny ways.

"It's not something I was expecting, so I'm actually clueless on how things are going to turn out for the next little bit," she said. "I would be pretty happy if it [works out.]"

Also in Kicking Horse, Whistler Freeride Club alumnus Tom Peiffer placed seventh in the men's ski event while another wild card, Pemberton's Logan Pehota, earned a 23rd-place finish. Meanwhile, in the men's snowboard event, the lone Canadian-Whistler-based wild card Craig McMorris-scored a seventh-place finish.

Full results are online at www.freerideworldtour.com.

Gascoigne sixth, Bulfone 13th at Junior Worlds

Whistler Freeride Club athlete Leif Gascoigne managed to deal with a multitude of venue changes and challenges as he scored a 77.67 en route to finishing sixth at the Freeride Junior World Championship at Kappl, Austria on Jan. 30.

Gascoigne explained that organizers twice changed the site for the contest because of the changing conditions, and decided to forgo the requirement common to European-based contests that competitors can't ride the terrain before the competition.

"The main one we visually inspected was new and hard, and it snowed a metre and a half, so they couldn't run that venue," he said. "They were looking at another one, and the other one couldn't do it either, so we actually did it on the third line."

While the course was easier than what was initially planned, Gascoigne made it work for him, despite nursing a sore ankle that he'd injured in the lead-up to worlds.

"It was just nice and flowy, fast and clean, no bobbles or anything," he said. "[I hit] a cliff at the top, and then there was a ridge line, so [I was] just jumping the ridge a couple times at a couple of points."

Being the worlds, there was more fanfare than Gascoigne was used to, as he had the camera faced squarely on him in the start gate. However, once he dropped, he tuned it out and did what he had to do.

"There were helicopters flying around and cameras everywhere," he said. "It was just a really high-end competition."

In terms of atmosphere in Austria, Gascoigne said he enjoyed the food, particularly the schnitzel on offer in Kappl. He also observed some differences in how skiers there approached the mountains.

"Everyone in Europe just skis the main groomer runs, so no one really goes off-piste," he said. "The whole time we were there, it was just us, the people there for the comp, that were just skiing not on the groomers, so it was nice."

Gascoigne will be competing in upcoming two-star events at Big White on Feb. 15 and 16 and Crystal Mountain from Feb. 28 to March 1. If required, he may line up at others with an eye toward qualifying for the North American Junior Freeride Championship, back at Crystal Mountain, in April.

With a top-10 placement at an international event under his belt, Gascoigne is feeling good about the rest of the season.

"I do feel more confident now that I've been there, and done something more serious and bigger," he said.

Meanwhile, teammate Ryder Bulfone posted a 63.33 to end up in 13th.

"I had a good run but had a couple control issues and backslaps leaving me in 13th place," Bulfone said in a text message.

During the competition, Bulfone enjoyed staying with his fellow Canadians, shredding the European resorts. Though there was a bluebird day for the competition, the conditions were a mixed bag throughout the trip, he said.

"The snow when we first got there was really bad. It had completely melted and then froze leaving everything terrible except for a few north faces. Then it snowed a metre overnight and which made for an amazing couple days," he wrote. "The comp venue had to be moved from its original big alpine face to a much smaller face right under the chair due to avalanche danger and accessibility issues. The smaller venue was not ideal but it was the best option they had."

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