Heading down to Breckenridge, Colorado for the opening ski slopestyle event of the Dew Cup series, Pemberton's Yuki Tsubota was the national team's fourth alternate. She really didn't think she'd have a chance to compete, but her coaches were confident that it would be worth the trip.
Sure enough, a few skiers were injured in training and a few more decided they weren't ready. Suddenly, Tsubota was in.
"I really wasn't expecting to get in," said the 18-year-old alumni of the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Club.
"My coach was telling me, 'it's OK, you'll get in, you'll get in,' but I didn't think it would happen. Once I was in, my goal right away was to make the finals and it went even better than that."
With the wind making competitors think twice about certain tricks, Tsubota put down a solid run with iron cross backflips and an off-cambre 360 grab over the last jump to place second overall behind Montreal's Kaya Turski, earning $12,500 for her efforts. Dara Howell was fifth, giving Canada three competitors in the top five.
Tsubota was disappointed that she had to tone down her last run because of the wind, but in retrospect it was the right decision to make.
"It definitely wasn't an easy day, we had a lot of wind problems in the air," she said. "I did play it safe on my last run and didn't get to do what I wanted to because I knew I'd come up short.
"It was really one of those days, I think. Kaya even stopped short on her second run before the big third jump because she didn't think she had the speed to make the landing. It was the right choice, she already had the lead and there was a chance she could get hurt."
While Tsubota has had a lot of success in the past, both as a mogul skier and more recently in the freeski world, she didn't expect to have this much success this quickly at the pro level. Last year she placed fifth in a World Cup slopestyle event, was first at the North Face Open at Northstar and, incredibly, placed third at the Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP) Championships in Whistler during the World Ski and Snowboard Festival.
That earned her a spot with the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team's slopestyle squad on Group B — essentially the national development team for the sport, which got Olympic status this spring.
While she didn't get to train with Turski — undefeated in two seasons — this summer, she's been working with national coaches Toben Sutherland and JF Cusson. A good part of her summer was spent on the water ramps in Lac Beauport, Quebec practicing new tricks, and the team got in two weeks at Mt. Hood in Oregon to try them out on some early season snow before heading to Colorado.