Panorama was unkind to Kole Harle, but Kimberley was a real pick-me-up for the Whistler-based skier.
Harle entered the Christmas break with a rough go at Panorama — between FIS race and NorAm Cup action, he entered seven races but only got through both runs in one of them, an 86th overall in the slalom.
Flash forward a month and the 17-year-old, originally from Campbell River, has found some mojo in Kimberley, taking two podiums and finishing no lower than fifth in five FIS races.
"I've been focused on having fun with it, going up every day and smiling at the top of the run," he said.
Admittedly a more proficient technical skier, Harle has made his charge in the downhill and super-G events, the latter of which he podiumed in twice at Kimberley.
"I've been really happy with my speed, my downhill races right now. Usually it's not my strong point because I'm a lot smaller of a guy than a lot of people," he said. "A lot of it is just aerodynamics. I've been really working on my tuck, trying to hold it through as much of the course as I can, staying low."
With emerging talent in the speed events, Harle hopes to avoid picking a specialization in the near future as he feels he can still grow in one as a result of doing the other. He has observed that his technical background has helped him in the speed races.
"A lot of it is my upper body position. I used to really throw my shoulders into the turn, which means I would lean in at the top. I've really been focusing to keep my body upright so I can pressure my ski at the top of the turn which means that I'll push myself down the hill, accelerate out of a turn," he explained. "That's helped me in the speed aspects."
The confidence boost comes at the right time, as Harle will be preparing for the U18 Nationals at Georgian Peaks from Feb. 23 to 26. All four races will be technical events.
Noting there will be a good number of unfamiliar challengers, Harle knows he'll have to do his best and has some high expectations.
"I hope for top 10. That's a reasonable goal for myself. It'll be a shorter course, I believe, because Ontario's mountains aren't quite as big, so it's going to be a sprint kind of race and that's going to benefit me," he said.
On the women's side, Whistler Mountain Ski Club's Katie Fleckenstein has been on a tear of her own, taking three wins and a runner-up at Kimberley.
In a year that's been much busier than the last, the 16-year-old credited her offseason training with helping her handle the load of race after race.
"The courses are so much longer and a bunch of people don't really make the jump up, but I think I've been making it pretty well so far, getting used to the skis and handling the nerves pretty well, keeping all that stuff in check," she said.
Fleckenstein is also set to head over to Ontario for nationals with her head exactly where she needs it to be after having some lower-than-usual finishes at Panorama and Mount Norquay before Christmas.
"The first (win) was really good for confidence. I got into the mindset of winning or coming on the podium instead of just finishing getting down the course," she said.
Older sister Stefanie, meanwhile, was the third-place junior and fifth-place overall finisher in NorAm Cup slalom action in Tremblant, Que. on Feb. 6. Head coach Ryan Jazic said in a release it was "not an easy race" and was proud of Fleckenstein's result.
Said Fleckenstein to the BC Alpine website: "I am very excited about my result and skiing today, but I know I have a lot left in the tank for the upcoming races. I was able to adapt and fight hard through both runs, in places that I would have given up last year."