After experiencing some disappointment at her first-ever Freeride Junior World Championship event last year, Whistler Freeride Club's Olivia McNeill was glad to get a chance at redemption.
McNeill went down in the event at Kappl, Austria last year, finishing a distant ninth. This time around, in the March 12 event also at Kappl, she landed her run, scoring a 60.00 to place her just off the podium in fourth place, 15 points back of champion Marie Bovard of Switzerland and eight points out of the bronze-medal slot.
"It definitely meant a lot. It was super great to have another opportunity, because last year, I fell. It was nice to be able to go again and put down a different run," McNeill said.
McNeill had to conquer some challenging conditions just to get down. With the weather turning, organizers sent the competitors on the first day of the planned window before the slopes would worsen.
"It snowed so much the night before," she said, "and it kind of warmed up, so the conditions were a little hard at times.
"It would have been nice to have done the whole thing, but it worked out."
One major difference that North American competitors have to deal with in European competitions is visual inspection, where they are not allowed to pre-ride the course and must instead plan their routes from afar. McNeill said while she had previous experience riding the venue last year, she opted not to use it.
"We just had to inspect in the morning, but I had a little bit of an advantage because I had already skied on the run, but I did a completely different line. I skied a completely different section that I hadn't skied before," she said. "It was fast. It just happened, which was kind of nice so you didn't have to think too much about it. There was not enough time for overthinking, but a little less time for inspecting."
In addition to visual inspection, McNeill explained she found it difficult to adjust to avalanche gear, including a back protector, which competitors are required to wear in European events.
"I'm used to it now. That was the main difference, though, wearing it more often," she said.
On the men's side, Troy Rozsypalek was the top-finishing local, clocking in at 19th with a score of 35.00.
In his first overseas trip, Rozsypalek acknowledged that visual inspection was a bit of a challenge, but also provided other benefits he doesn't see at North American events.
"It's not as different as I thought. It's quite nice because the snow on the venue stays a lot better so it's actually more of a pow comp than in North America where everyone's on the venue and it gets skied out," he said.
Rozsypalek performed well in a competition leading up to the championships, taking fifth in Nendaz, Switzerland. However, once he arrived in Kappl, the conditions were too much to overcome.
"The sun hit the snow, which was at about 60 centimetres, so it got warm and tough to ski, so that was kind of an issue," he said.
Rozsypalek described his attitude entering the competition as wanting to go all out, and he doesn't regret forgoing a more conservative run in hindsight.
"I wanted to ski something more challenging, but something I would be able to land," he said. "I didn't really want to ski something lame.
"It didn't really work out. I wasn't really able to hit my last (feature), which would have been pretty big, but it was a fun day with all the snow."
Rhys Higgins also competed at Junior Worlds, but did not record a score.
Rozsypalek and McNeill both plan to compete on the Freeride World Qualifier tour next season, with Rozsypalek considering whether he will ski in North America or Europe.
Full results are available online at www.freerideworldtour.com.
Sherlock, Curran post wins
Closer to home, the Whistler Freeride Club was in action at the 2019 IFSA Junior National in the Saudan Couloir on March 17.
In the women's 12-to-14 ski event, Kayley Sherlock led a club sweep of the podium as Sofia Guy was second and Drea Dimma was third. In the same age group for the men, Tristan Curran edged Marcus Goguen to top the podium.
In the 15-to-18 division, meanwhile, Lach Powell was second in the men's division while Amber Mullings ended up in third on the women's side.
For complete results, check out www.freeskiers.org.