In front of easily the largest crowd he's ever skied in front of, Pemberton moguls skier Brenden Kelly pulled off his best-ever FIS World Cup result.
With an estimated 8,500 fans roaring at the dual moguls contest in Deer Valley, Utah on Feb. 8, the 29th-ranked Kelly bested sixth-seeded Dmitriy Reikherd of Kazakhstan and seventh-ranked Sacha Theocharis of France before his Cinderella run ended at the hands of No. 3 Benjamin Cavet of France, the eventual finalist as he finished seventh overall.
"The pressure is off of me in those situations. I'm the underdog and so I felt really open to go for it and not hold anything back," he said. "I've been to Deer Valley a number of times before, but never skied that late in the day, so the energy was just phenomenal.
"[There are] people yelling your name, making a ton of noise. The thunderous roars of the crowd as you're standing on the top about to drop in in a head-to-head race against one of the best in the world is an incredible feeling."
The result was the second top-10 placement of Kelly's career after he earned a 10th in moguls at Thaiwoo, China in December 2018. In between Kelly's top-10 appearances, he popped up in the top 15 just once, but after putting in hard work to make some necessary changes, feels he's made sustainable progress.
"I finally made a big breakthrough," Kelly said. "I was working really well with my coach throughout all of the training days. He rephrased some of the things that I'd been working on for the past three or four years and the way he said them really stuck with me.
"He kept telling me, 'If you go faster, your skiing becomes better looking and nicer, so you just have to keep going fast.'"
Kelly managed to execute that vision, understanding that the higher speed will feel comfortable as he makes the required transitions and weight shifts.
"We've been working a lot on turn timing and the initiation part of the turn, but it clicked a lot in Deer Valley," he said. "The middle section is so long that you don't have to slow down for about 150 metres, so you can really get into a good rhythm and allow yourself a ton of time to ski 10 to 20 moguls at a top pace."
Even with the next World Cup taking place on a shorter course in Tazawako, Japan on Feb. 22 and 23, Kelly is confident that he'll be able to tap back into a similar mindset.
"[It's] the ability to trust my ski line as I get into that top jump. Now I know I can get into that rhythm and I can feel comfortable at that speed, I'm not going to feel the desire to slow down as much," he said. After Deer Valley, Kelly is 18th in the overall standings, admittedly a little lower than he'd like to be. However, he still has five events remaining to climb the table.
"My work is cut out for me. I got a seventh-place and that's amazing, but I can't lose sight of what's up next," he said. "My singles results need to improve to the same calibre as that dual result."
As part of the dual contest, Mikaël Kingsbury and Justine Dufour-Lapointe both took gold.
In the women's event, Dufour-Lapointe knocked off American Hannah Soar while another U.S. athlete, Jaelin Kauf, came away with third.
Other Canadians included Valerie Gilbert in 19th and Freestyle Whistler alum Maia Schwinghammer in 24th.
Meanwhile, Kingsbury bested Cavet in the final to extend his career-record gold haul to 61. Sweden's Walter Wallberg, meanwhile, took third.
Other Canadians included Laurent Dumais in ninth, Kerrian Chunlaud in 13th, Elliot Vaillancourt in 18th, Gabriel Dufresne in 42nd and Robbie Andison in 46th.
In single moguls action on Feb. 6, Kingsbury earned a second-place finish behind Japan's Ikuma Horishima while Sweden's Felix Elofsson placed third. Down the table, Chunlaud was ninth, Kelly took 22nd, Dumais and Dufresne were back to back in 24th and 25th, respectively, Vaillancourt placed 40th and Jordan Kober took 53rd.
As for the women, Dufour-Lapointe hit the podium in third, just 1.19 points back of winner Perrine Laffont of France and 0.35 points shy of second-place finisher Jakara Anthony of Australia. Other Canucks included Gilbert in 16th and Schwinghammer in 17th.