Anders and Chase Ujejski thought they were prepared to take a bit of a step back from freestyle skiing as they looked to move into their post-secondary academic careers.
The Whistler twins had enrolled at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business and were ready to delve into the next stage of their lives. But a few days in, both realized they had plenty left to give in the terrain park, postponing their educational pursuits for another grasp at athletic glory.
Anders' last event in 2018-19, at Mammoth Mountain, saw him post his best-ever NorAm Cup slopestyle result with a sixth-place showing. Chase's top showing came a bit earlier in the year, a fifth-place result at Waterville Valley Resort.
"We were all prepared for [school], but we decided at the last minute that we wanted to give skiing a go again for another year or more," Anders said. "It was basically because we both had a really good season last year, so we were kind of amped up on that season."
Added Chase: "We basically just decided that it was too early to have that kind of career switch to school. We wanted to keep our passion going for skiing."
Both kept up their skiing, taking part in Momentum Ski Camps this summer and heading to Cardrona, New Zealand for additional training this year.
"We didn't really stop. We just kept skiing and wanted to continue with it," Anders said.
Both will be members of the Freestyle Whistler 'A' Team, formed last season with a handful of other B.C. Team graduates. The Ujejskis had the same private coach last year and felt primed to take another step in their respective development this year.
"We really enjoyed competing last year, so we decided to do that again this year in the hopes of getting better results and improving," Anders said. "The main thing was the great group of athletes on the team, and the coach."
Both Ujejskis hope to hit the NorAm Cup podium this season in the hopes of earning future World Cup starts and locking in a spot on the national team.
"Every year just builds off each other, so we definitely have some more to give," Anders said. "We need a couple more years before we're fully there, but it's a building process like that. We just need to keep skiing a lot and training hard."
To help support their season, the Ujejskis, along with teammate Nick Suchy, will host a fundraiser this Friday, Nov. 8 at the Maury Young Arts Centre. The event centres around the premiere of Faction Skis' new film The Collective, with the evening including raffles, prize giveaways, and a silent auction. The goal is to raise $7,500 through the event.
Tickets are $15 and available at https://www.showpass.com/faction.
"The fundraiser is definitely a key component to this year because we're planning on doing lots of travelling and competing," Chase said. "It's really hard to keep up financially."
Anders noted the duo will be able to go to all of the competitions regardless, but having a financial buffer will provide some comfort to them.
The Ujejskis first got into freestyle after seeing their older brother, a snowboarder, tear up the park. Watching him made them both think that they'd like to do something similar, but on skis.
"There's the fact it's so free. You can do whatever you want," Anders said. "It doesn't really feel like one of those other sports, like soccer, with a bunch of rules. It's so open and creative and free."
Suchy, the third skier involved in the fundraiser, enjoys freestyle for similar reasons. He explained that growing up in Revelstoke, he saw plenty of rigidity in skiing before learning about freestyle.
"I saw people in moguls as well as racing and they had strict guidelines of what was expected of them, but with freestyle, it's your own interpretation of skiing and how you want to do it," he said. "There's no wrong way to do it. There's so many different styles within freestyle."
Suchy added that since making Whistler his home base, his skiing has improved "exponentially" and he's eager to see what strides he still have left to make.
"The park that Whistler has to offer is the best in Canada," he said, adding that he's able to develop consistency in the local terrain park. "Being able to ski so much longer of a season in Whistler [helps]. You have two months longer than pretty much anywhere else in the province.
"It's the consistency and the amount of time on snow."
All told, Suchy's best finish in an event is the 11th he took in the NorAm Cup big ari competition at Aspen-Snowmass in February, while his top slopestyle result to date was 13th, at Aspen-Buttermilk, in 2018.
He's looking to use this season to earn a spot with the Freestyle Canada NextGen group in the years to come.