With difficult spring conditions challenging snowboarders during the Halaw Snowboard Invitational in Skier's Plaza on April 12, competitors were finding it difficult to land two scoring runs in the five attempts they were afforded.
Men's champ Jack MacDougall, however, landed all but his last one as he held off early favourite Mark McMorris to secure the win on a slushy hill.
MacDougall, a native of Grande Prairie, Alta., saw his first and third runs stand for a combined score of 179.50. McMorris, meanwhile, failed to land his first two tries, put down the day's best attempt (94.25) in Run 3, but couldn't find a complementary second score as he finished as the runner-up with a 174.50. Francis Jobin was third with a 171.75.
MacDougall has excelled at World Ski and Snowboard Festival big air events in the past, placing second to Max Parrot in 2018. Facing a similarly stacked field this time, the 18-year-old topped not only McMorris, but national team athletes in Darcy Sharpe and Mikey Ciccarelli to snare the $20,000 first prize.
"It feels so good. Riding with my idols, Darcy and Mark, it feels so good to be on a similar level as them," he said. "(Taking second last year) helped me with confidence a lot. I knew the jump and I knew what I wanted to do on it. I knew what I could do on it, so it helped me out."
MacDougall's best-scoring run, his third, included a back 1440, which he was admittedly nervous to bust out, but the 92.75 score proved to be worth it in the end.
"I just kept getting good spots to land in," he said. "The landing was getting really soft and really choppy, but somehow, I just kept getting the good spots."
On the women's side, youth was again served as Jasmine Baird of Georgetown, Ont. eked out a win over defending champion Julia Marino of the United States.
The 19-year-old Baird steadily grew her score in each of her first four runs, with her third and fourth attempts combining for a 142.00. Marino only landed one of her first four tries, saving her best for last. However, her fifth-run score of 75.25 gave her a combined score that placed her 0.25 points behind Baird.
Third-place finisher Laurie Blouin came out blazing, landing the top run out of all the women with an 80.75 on her first attempt. However, none of her remaining attempts could match it as she ultimately tallied a 131.25.
Baird explained that she wasn't feeling particularly confident coming into the competition, as she struggled to put down runs in practice with constantly shifting conditions. However, she found her groove when it mattered, earning herself a $20,000 payday.
"The jumps changed twice since yesterday's practice, so it was hard but I'm really happy with how it turned out," Baird said after Friday's victory. "The first change was a bit scary. It was kicky, so that was a bit of a nightmare. After that, it was a lot better.
"The hardest part was getting through the landing and making it all the way down. It was really slushy and there were a lot of holes in there, but the run in was good and the take-off was pretty solid."
Baird said when her cab underflip impressed the judges on her third attempt, she started to feel as though a victory could be within her grasp.
"I got a decent score and thought, 'Oh! Things might be looking up here,'" she recalled.
Olympic skiers end up on top
At the following day's Sp'akwus Ski Invitational on April 13, the familiar names took the wins.
On the women's side, Olympic slopestyle gold medallist Sarah Hoefflin of Switzerland ran away with the victory, scoring a combined 170.00 to top defending champion Elena Gaskell (149.75), who made it onto the podium after nailing her last run, and Whistler's Yuki Tsubota (144.75).
"It's always such a pleasure to end the season with such a great result," said Hoefflin, who landed all but one of her runs. "It's good for the morale. It gives me confidence and it just makes me want to do better tricks."
Despite being the clear class of the field on comp day, Hoefflin felt she had plenty left to give. Hoefflin genuinely felt her best run of the day came on the one she failed to land, as her switch 720 was clean but she just lacked the speed to finish it, which she said was a common problem toward the end of training runs as well.
"Today was nowhere near as clean as I wanted my tricks to be. There's still so much room for improvement," she said. "I know I'm going to get there and I'm super excited about the future."
As for the men, three heavyweights were all in the money as Alex Beaulieu-Marchand landed four of five runs en route to a 186.50 score to down up-and-comer Philippe Langevin (176.50) and Whistler resident Teal Harle (170.00).
"I'm super happy, for sure. To get the win, it's unreal. It's always good to end the season with a first win on the pro tour," said the 2018 Olympic slopestyle bronze medallist.
Beaulieu-Marchand started quickly with two high-scoring runs and built a buffer, and eventually increased his score further with his fifth and final attempt to put the victory out of reach.
"I just wanted to build off what I was doing, so I went for hard tricks in the beginning, then maybe a little easier, then trying a different grab. That ended up working out, giving me a good score," he said.
Full results are online at www.wssf.com.