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Canadian freestylers take on the world



Marionettes on Methedrine meet the Twirly Birds

Talk about kicking off the New Year with a Twister. Here comes the FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships. For an elite group of Whistler’s alpine skiers who compete in freestyle skiing events, this event has a special resonance. Not only is it time to add more results that will allow them to qualify for the Utah Winter Olympics in 2002, it’s also Canada’s turn to host the World Freestyle Championships. To top it all off, this marks the first time Whistler has hosted a major FIS World Championship event.

Whatever you do, don’t commit the faux pas of confusing freestyle skiing with freeskiing. Freeskiing, or "new school," is what used to be called "extreme skiing," with skiers being judged on radical off-piste descents and big air jumps. As you’ll see in the conversations that follow, freestylers have been known to take part in freeskiing events, as their aerial and bump skiing skills make it easy for them to cross over between the two disciplines.

Freestyle skiing has its roots in the 1960s where it blossomed in three major centres: Aspen, Colorado, Tignes, France, and our very own Whistler Mountain. In those early days an "anything goes" attitude developed that today still permeates the sport, although there are no longer the three-in-one fun events where moguls, ballet, and aerials were performed in one run. Today, 14 years after the first World Championships were held in 1986, freestyle skiing (or ski acrobatique as it’s called in French), has shed its "hotdog" reputation.

Whistler-based Wayne Wong and Nancy Greene were among freestyle’s earliest exponents. In that same tradition, new faces continue to emerge locally, particularly in the mogul (or "bumps") discipline, such as Tami Bradley and Sylvia Kerfoot, Ryan Johnson and Trennon Paynter. These four have taken charge since the retirement of B.C.-based World Cup freestylers such as John Smart, Marc McDonell, Bronwen Thomas, Brad Suey, and Korry Zepick. This year, one notable addition to the West Coast scene is aerialist Andy Capicik, a member of freestyle’s elite New Canadian Air Force.

Pique caught up with the five freestylers who represent Canada on the Freestyle World Cup tour, and some of whom will be competing at the Freestyle World Ski Championships on Blackcomb when moguls, dual moguls, and aerial contests run between January 17-21. This is the first time that the prestigious meet has been held in Canada, and only the second time its been held outside of Europe.

Last January a new aerial site – dubbed JJ’s, after pioneering freestyle skier Johnny Johnston – was unveiled in a natural amphitheatre on Blackcomb. December’s World Cup aerial event got the new jumps warmed up for the World Championships, considered second only to the Olympics in terms of prestige. Canada has traditionally fielded one of the strongest freestyle teams in the world. There’s very good medal prospects this year in all three disciplines. As an added incentive for skiers to excel, only the top four men and women per nation per discipline are eligible to compete.