After a few years of making the occasional FIS World Cup cameo, Pemberton's Brenden Kelly is looking to take a starring role on the tour.
Just two competitions into the 2018-19 campaign, the 23-year-old has already made moves to grasp his place on Freestyle Canada's team, most recently taking a career-best 10th-place finish at Thaiwoo Ski Resort in China on Dec. 15.
"It was super incredible to go to a country I'd never been to before, and to ski the way that I wanted to was very special," he said. "The weather had been really nice all week and we were dealing with mostly sunny conditions all day. The course there is flatter than what we'd seen the previous week in Finland, so it gave me a lot of confidence to ski a little bit of an easier course."
Kelly made the most of an easier course to try a new approach, landing his tougher trick earlier in the run. It was ultimately a successful change in strategy.
"I switched my jumping package up to do a 1080 on the top and a 720 on the bottom to focus more on my skiing and my turns in the middle section," he said. "I toned down. I did the 1080, the jump I normally do at the bottom, on the top, and got that out of the way, so I had one of my easier jumps to do on the bottom. That really cleared my head and made my run a lot easier, and it felt like a lot less pressure when I was skiing.
"Once I got the 1080 landed and started skiing the middle, all I had to do was focus on those middle-section turns because I knew it was autopilot off that bottom jump."
The Chinese event came just a week after the season-opening event in Ruka, Finland, where Kelly placed 29th. It admittedly wasn't easy getting quickly acclimatized to a resort that's six hours ahead, but Kelly noted his competition was all in the same boat.
"It's definitely tricky to adjust to the time change that fast, but every athlete on tour did the exact same thing. We all had to go from Finland straight to China, so nobody really has an advantage in those situations," he said. "It's really about who can let that go and just train and do what they have to do skiing."
Entering the season, the defending national dual moguls champion worked to refine his skills in order to ensure that he had the best possible toolbox entering competition this campaign.
"We really focused on my skiing. Coming off of last year, I was doing the back double full and the 1080 at all my events and those are two of the hardest tricks on the World Cup tour," he said. "I knew I had those tricks already down. My coach decided that for me, really focusing on my skiing and my speed would be the next step for me to complete my entire package. We focused a lot on my turns and my turn timing."
Other tweaks Kelly made in the offseason included his hand position and ski direction as well as jumping. Then, as the season approached, it was all about combining each element into a World Cup-worthy run.
With the North American portion of the season set to go in January, Kelly is looking to clinch one of Canada's four World Championships slots so he can compete in Utah in February.
"That 10th place puts me in good position for the World Championship," he said.
One competitor who is locked into a spot is World Cup career wins leader Mikaël Kingsbury, who has gone about his business with three wins in three events so far this year. Having more time on the World Cup tour has allowed Kelly a front-row seat to his teammate's greatness, as well as the opportunity to pick the brain of arguably the best the sport has ever seen.
"I constantly ask him questions. He definitely sees the course a little bit differently than everybody else. He's so talented and he's able to think in such a tactical manner when he's skiing that a lot of the questions I ask him are how he's dealing with certain tricky sections of the course or how he's dealing with something smaller off the bottom jump," Kelly said. "There are certain things that athletes overlook when they're skiing and they're just focusing on the fundamentals of the sport, whereas he is always looking for that little extra edge that he can get on, that extra speed he can take in these moguls, or he slows down only one mogul before the bottom air instead of three or four.
"It's going to pay off for our whole team. We're going to continue to push him, but we all have the opportunity to learn from him and I think that's really special and we're really lucky."