Whistler Mountain Ski Club alumnus Mikayla Martin has completed an incredible ascent to the top of the junior ski-cross world.
To start off her second year of competition, the 21-year-old topped the FIS Junior Freestyle Ski World Championships in Cardrona, New Zealand on Aug. 27.
Martin bested American Mazie Hayden and Britons Elliane Hall and Emma Peters in the big final of the race, which was held as part of the New Zealand Winter Games festival.
"Honestly, I'm feeling relieved. I had put a lot of pressure on myself coming down here. My goal was to win. That was the focus," she said. "So being able to perform when I needed to perform, it was a relief."
Martin led the whole way, emerging as the top qualifier and winning both heats en route to claiming gold.
"I was able to put down a solid run and I ended up winning by just over a second. I was proud of myself and that kind of confirmed that I could do it, that the win was within my grasp," she said. "Yesterday, we only had two heats, so the first heat I was able to keep my head down and race at my best level. The second one (the finals), I was nervous going into it, but then I was able to execute my race plan. I'm extremely happy with how it ended up panning out."
The Squamish native described the course as "relatively short," as racers completed it in about 40 seconds. She also noted that it was one that played to her advantage, with a number of turns where she could put some distance between herself and the other racers.
Martin said it was a little strange to not only compete at this point in the year, but also to be challenging for a world title in the first event of the season.
"It's weird, because it is offseason for us. I've been in the gym training and haven't had that much time on snow leading up to this," she said. "It's just one step on the journey so I'm looking forward to what the rest of the 2018-19 season has in store for me."
Martin arrived on Aug. 15 and tried to get out skiing as much as possible, though she reported that rainy conditions scuttled those plans on occasion. She estimated that she got out a half-dozen times before jumping into competition mode.
However, all but one of the eight athletes was from the Northern Hemisphere, so they were in the same boat as Martin.
"It was a relatively small field given that it was the offseason, and it was difficult to get to, but the athletes that were here were top calibre," she said.
The victory will help launch Martin into her second year of competitive ski-cross after she enjoyed a strong rookie season, with two podium appearances on the Nor-Am Cup circuit and one more in Europa Cup action. Martin said she's made significant strides since first trying the discipline a little over a year ago.
"It's been an exciting journey," she said with a laugh. "About a year ago last May was the first time I'd ever been on a ski-cross course. I fell in love with it and started getting better at jumping. I've always been a competitor and I've always loved racing, so being head-to-head with the other athletes just added another dimension to the sport I love.
"It took me a little bit to get my feet under me on the jumps. That was a bit scary a couple times, but I've come a long way from last May."
Martin added that she was appreciative of everyone that has helped her on her journey thus far, and especially as she transitioned from alpine racing to ski-cross. She was thrilled to show what she's capable of this weekend, and will look to continue her development as winter approaches.
"Coming into an event like this, a world-class (race), I had my goals set high. I absolutely love the sport of ski-cross and the people in it, so it was very rewarding that I could go out here and prove to myself and to the others that I could compete," she said. "I reaffirmed that all the work I put in last year and the learning curve I went through was worth it."