Max Eberhardt has been enduring a challenging 2014-15 season.
The 20-year-old North Bay, Ont., resident was forced to miss all of January with a shin injury. In addition to missing a couple events, he also lacked time to ride for pleasure and try new things, setting him back significantly for the campaign.
But Eberhardt kept at it and overcame the difficulties, announcing he'd returned in a big way by capturing the slopestyle event at Sport Chek Air Nation Canada Snowboard Freestyle Nationals on Blackcomb on March 26. He topped a field of 59 starters in the process, earning his second victory of the year.
"I came back and I had three contests back to back, which kind of stressed me out, and I didn't have enough time to ride for myself," he said. "I've just been cruising lately and having fun, so those were the right steps heading into this contest."
With only the Monster Energy Shred Show remaining on the docket, Eberhardt sought to approach the event in a big way and prove to himself he could place once again. He wowed the judges with a backside double cork 1080 to wrap up his run, earning an impressive score of 92.5 to best David Kinskofer by 6.2 points. Timothy Crighton placed third.
"Putting down a clean run was one of the most important things today. Everyone was killing it, but ultimately, it came down to who could make it to the bottom without falling," Eberhardt said.
He described the conditions as soft and bumpy, but while they weren't great, he found a way to make the course work for him.
"If you're good at riding in those conditions, it helps you stay a lot more calm because it does come down to nerves in the end as well," said Eberhardt, who landed a backside double cork 1080 to finish. "This is probably my favourite bad condition. High winds always psych me out, so when there's no wind, I'm usually happy about the conditions."
On the ladies' side, Quebec's Laurie Blouin scored 83.8 to edge Breanne Stangeland in a close contest, while Sam DeNena was a distant third in the field of 11 riders.
"It feels really good. I did a great run, I stomped my run," she said. "The girls rode well today."
Blouin felt her underflip 540 helped launch her to victory, as it differentiated her from her other competitors and allowed her to take her third gold of the campaign.
"There aren't a lot of girls that flip," she said.
With the conditions she was presented, Blouin said she just couldn't hold back and felt she found herself in a situation where she could make the most of the day. She noted the conditions usually lead to issues gaining speed, but she found she could get fast enough, but just had trouble seeing ahead at times.
"I was all-in, even if the weather wasn't good," she said. "The weather wasn't good in qualis (qualifiers), but in the finals, it was better. The visibility was better.
"You can't control the weather, so you need to do it, even if it's raining."
The season has been a bounce-back one for Blouin, who was held out for part of last season with an ankle injury.
"This year, I've been getting back really strong and I'm stoked on that," she said. "I've been working really hard, training hard."
In the junior women's event, Fillion Oceane ran away with the gold by 27.5 points over Whistler's Jacqueline Monette-Warren, who herself held off Christina Retson by just 0.4 points.
As for the junior men, Jeremy Langevin won gold with a score of 81.2, with Gabriel Gosselin and Joshua Reeves also making the podium.
Local competitors strong in recent events
Local freestyle skier Taylor Wilson had plenty to be happy about recently.
The Canadian Freestyle Ski Association member won gold in halfpipe at the Sony SnowCrown AFP World Tour stop at Blue Mountain, near Collingwood, Ont. held from March 14 to 21.
Wilson, 18, was happy with how he landed the cork 1080 in particular.
"I pretty much just tried to have fun," he said. "I was doing my own thing, having the most fun possible, and I think I skied well."
Wilson didn't make the finals at the event last year, and said being part of the CFSA team and accessing their coaching has helped him improve this year, maximizing his consistency.
Also as part of the event, Yuki Tsubota won silver in women's slopestyle while Sofia Tchernetsky won bronze (also taking the top prize in the amateur event). Riley Culver won gold in men's slopestyle, while finishing third to Wilson in the halfpipe. Teal Harle won gold in men's big air and Mackenzie Wilson won bronze in women's halfpipe.
The following weekend, Harle won slopestyle silver at the Dumont Cup in Sunday River, Maine, finishing just a point behind legend Bobby Brown.