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Freestylers top shelf in Tignes

Sharpe, Riddle earn gold medals at final FIS event of the season



Sea to Sky skiers dominated on the halfpipe in Tignes, France, last Thursday (March 12).

Squamish resident Mike Riddle saved his best for last, ripping off a score of 95.00 in his third and final run of the day in 2015 FIS Freestyle World Cup action, besting American and 2014 Olympic gold medallist David Wise's 94.20 tally.

Whistlerite Simon d'Artois struggled in his opening and closing runs, but put up a score of 77.20 in his second showing to place sixth.

Riddle's first came shortly after Whistler resident Cassie Sharpe topped the podium on the circuit for the first time. Like her fellow Canadian, Sharpe came up big in the clutch, putting up the best run of the day in her final attempt. Her final score was 93.80, though even her second-best run of 91.80 would have easily won her the title over Japanese competitor Ayana Onozuka, who scored 90.40.

"It's amazing. I feel super good and I'm super stoked on the run that I put down," Sharpe said.

Sharpe hit the podium earlier this season at the FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboard Championships in Kreischberg, Austria, taking a second-place finish in the halfpipe there. However, the X Games took place at the same time and split the field between the two contests. Sharpe noted the smaller field didn't diminish her accomplishments in Austria, but she did take pride knowing she knocked off Olympic silver medallist Marie Martinod and bronze medallist Onozuka this time around.

"We still got judged the same way (at world championships). My riding has definitely improved and I've definitely become a stronger skier from then to now," she said. "It's one of the biggest events (where) I've ever made it into finals, so it's something big for me to accomplish."

Canadian halfpipe head coach Trennon Paynter said he was confident if Sharpe attended X Games, where many of the stronger skiers were, she'd have been in contention to hit the podium. Still, he said she'd "hit a new gear" in the intermediate time.

"Cassie's run was pretty mind-blowing. She, I can pretty confidently say, was upside-down above the pipe higher than any girl has ever been upside-down above the halfpipe," Paynter said. "Just to see that on its own was so fantastic for us as a team and even for everyone there."

Sharpe explained a new twist on a common trick was one factor in her increasing her score. In addition to a new sight for the judges, Sharpe feels her ability to go big and leave the pipe behind on several of her tricks set her apart.

"Recently I've been working on the left cork 9 (900), which is something that no girls are doing right now," she said. "A lot of girls are doing straight-up 9s, and they're awesome, they're technical and everything, but to get it cork inverted, it's really something different.

"I debuted that at the Calgary (Nor-Am Cup) contest (on March 6) where I got second but I brought it up bigger and better."

Sharpe improved her score in all three runs, which she explained was by design. She planned to use her debut to set a cozy baseline and then push herself to grab some extra points as the day went along.

"The first run, I wanted to land what I wanted to do, to get it clean and maybe not as big as I would have liked to do it, just to have a run that I was comfortable with. Even that scored really well for me," she said. "Pushing forward the next two runs, I kept pushing my amplitude, kept getting my grabs even more defined. By the third one, I was going really big and I think that was something that was really important for me to do for myself."

As a 22 year old in just her eighth World Cup halfpipe competition, Sharpe noted she's still a relative rookie and feels this result will help her further push into the elite establishment.

"I'm new to the scene a little bit and all these girls have been competing for so long, have been together for so long," she said. "It's really fun to come in here and try to mix it up a little bit.

"I can play with them. I can play with the big dogs and that's a lot of fun."

Sharpe is set to stick around Tignes for a bit to participate in French rival Marie Martinod's charity event before returning to Whistler.

Riddle figures it out

It hasn't been Mike Riddle's best season in terms of results.

So it's a good thing accolades are on the backburner for the 28 year old. His primary focus is scoring another Olympic medal at the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, after snaring silver in Sochi a year ago.

"I haven't podiumed since the Olympics, which definitely plays on the mind a little bit," he said. "But it's been a very different year for me in that I haven't really been aiming for the podium. I've been working on new combos and new tricks, but a few of the tricks I've been working on haven't been working out.

"It's definitely a building year, but I've got some extra stuff that I didn't pull out tonight that I'm hoping to have for next year. I'm trying to think long-term with my skiing as opposed to immediate, looking forward to South Korea."

It's a process of growing pains for Riddle, but with a trio of tries to land his tricks, was able to build confidence by nailing all three.

"I actually landed all three runs, which for me is kind of rare," Riddle laughed. "My goal tonight was just to go out and put my run down and it took me three tries. I'm definitely loving the three-run format of the World Cup this year.

"Everyone skied so well and I'm unbelievably happy to come out on top."

One of Riddle's new offerings is the right side double cork 1260, which he had executed before, but never in a run that was as well done as in Tignes. There is still a treasure trove of tricks he plans to roll out as they come together in the coming years leading up to South Korea.

"There's definitely a point where you stop and work on tricks you have. The tricks I did here are all tricks that I've done but it's a new run combo for me," he said. "I've done a bunch of things that I'm working on that are still going to be new for me to compete in the coming years. I have a couple things up my sleeve that I really want to do but I haven't been able to figure it out."

Observing no competitor has taken more than one gold on the men's side this season, Riddle noted several others have also been busting out new tricks, which has made for an exciting season all around.

Both Sharpe and Riddle said they would be at the World Ski & Snowboard Festival (WSSF) when it lands in Whistler from April 10 to 19. Riddle will look to defend his halfpipe title from 2012, the last time the competition was held at the WSSF.