After a frustrating year of coming up short in competitions, Whistler snowboarder Michelle Charles jumped to the top of the heap in a NorAm giant slalom competition at Copper Mountain, Colorado on Nov. 11, finishing in third place overall ahead of some of the top World Cup racers from North America.
"Last year I had a rough season, I was struggling with money and it was weighing down on me, and I was down on myself," says Charles. "This year Im still struggling, and this year I decided to either place less emphasis on it, or pack it in.
"I had a good summer training at Copper and in Europe, and made some breakthroughs in my riding. Im trying to relax and focus on things that are part of the game plan. Thirty seconds before you get out of the gate is usually when the fear kicks in, but I focused in on the technical part of the race ahead of me, and it worked."
Rosey Fletcher, one of the top alpine snowboard racers in the world, won both runs at Copper to finish with a combined time of one minute 12.72 seconds. Teammate Claire Cetera was a distant second with a combined time of 1:16.23. Charles put in two solid top-five runs to take third overall with a time of 1:17.93.
Lynn Ott, an up and coming American racer was fourth, and Alexa Loo, another Canadian was fifth. Three other Canadians made the top 15, including Melissa Barclay in ninth, Lindsey Harrop in 10th and Ekaterina Zavialov in 13 th .
"That was kind of a warm-up race for the season for me, and coming away from it I really feel that this could be a good year for me. Its building up to (World Cup) events in Whistler and Mont-Ste-Anne," says Charles.
Technically, she may still be able to qualify for the 2002 Winter Olympics, where Canada hopes to enter two women in the alpine snowboard events, although she says its an outside shot.
She will need to compete in more World Cup races, and with the Canadian National Snowboard Team only taking two athletes to events, there isnt a lot of room.
Either way, Charles says she is happy to be racing this well this early, and to put last season behind her.
"Im letting the board go more, Im in the right place making my turns, and at the right time, and Im letting my speed carry me. Getting the timing right takes so many years of practice, and Im getting there."
This year will be largely self-funded by Charles. Every year she has held a fund-raiser dinner at La Rúa, but the events of Sept. 11 and slow business made it impractical.
Instead, her womens clothing sponsor has given her samples, and Charles will be setting up a booth this Saturday (Nov. 24) from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Meadow Park arena to sell them to the public.