Pulling off the giant slalom was a big checkmark in a giant column.
Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WMSC) member Max Peiffer took a first-place showing in the giant slalom on Feb. 26 and parlayed it into a U18 national title later in the weekend. A fourth-place performance in the slalom and a ninth in the super-G were enough to boost Peiffer into the top spot all told after three days of skiing at Nakiska Mountain Resort, a mountain with which he wasn't familiar until the week leading up to the event.
The 17 year old was a headliner as B.C. bested the rest of the nation, as Grouse Mountain Tyee's Antonia Wearmouth won the overall title on the women's side and BC Ski Team competitors hit the podium nine times in 18 opportunities. Among those were WMSC members Riley Seger winning gold and Cameron Alexander bronze in the super-G, Stefanie Fleckenstein and Mitch Smith taking silvers in the slalom and Alexander grabbing silver in the giant slalom.
Peiffer has performed well on the Keurig BC Cup circuit so far, holding a slim six-point lead on Grouse Mountain Tyee's Sam Mulligan, benefitting from five top-six showings and a slalom win in Schweitzer, Wash. in January.
"I started to figure out what I've been working on for the last several months and it all sort of clicked," he said. "That's all I needed to focus on."
At Nakiska, where Peiffer competed in the Nor-Am Cup action immediately before U18 nationals, he gained some familiarity with the course. Noting the mountain was similar in terrain to several others, he quickly felt so good he blazed to defeat Alexander by 0.65 seconds and Huston Philp by 2.14 seconds in the giant slalom. The confidence carried on.
"As soon as I pushed out of the start gate, I had that feeling I had in the GS the day before," Peiffer said. "I knew that this was the run and if I could put this one and the other one together, I had a pretty good chance."
Peiffer's main focus this season has been to maximize his efficiency and pick up the most speed he can by meticulously attending to how he is using his skis.
"The entire year, I've been struggling with trying to find a good solid position I can work from," he said. "I find this season, I've really made leaps and bounds in my position on the skis and from there, I'm able to do what I can do.
"To get to that top level, you really need to use your equipment to really generate speed."
As the season comes to a cap, Peiffer plans to continue the Nor-Am Cup schedule in the northeastern United States at Maine's Sugarloaf Mountain and New Hampshire's Waterville Valley Resort later this month. Though not in the running for the overall title, Peiffer hopes to show Alpine Canada brass he's on track to earn a promotion to its developmental team in the near future.
"If you do well at the Nor-Ams, you put yourself in good position to be moving up to those higher-level ski teams," he said. "I'll focus on the big races out east and then enjoy spring season at home because it's nice to get family and friends to come out and cheer (me) on.
"All I can do is keep on skiing to the best of my abilities and hopefully that day will come when they'll give me a call and I'll go to camp and prove myself of a high enough calibre to ski on their team."
Peiffer noted he's placing more of an emphasis on process than results and feels he's in a good state mentally, as he's learned to find a balance in his intensity, something he's struggled with before.
"I feel like I'm in a good place in my process, but there's always room to improve," he said.
Fleckenstein back on the podium
At one point this season, Stefanie Fleckenstein suffered through a string of 14 unfinished races in 22 outings.
Sure, she had two gold medals in Schweitzer, Wash. in that stretch, but on the whole, it was a tough go for the 17-year-old Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WMSC) member.
After some frustration at Nakiska Ski Resort on the Nor-Am Cup circuit late last month, as she didn't finish four out of five races, Fleckenstein feels she's turned a corner with six top-10 finishes in her last seven races, including a win and a bronze at back-to-back giant slalom events at Red Mountain Resort on March 7 and 8.
"I was just focusing more on my process than what my results were going to be because I had a rough trip out in Nakiska," she said. "I thought I'd go back to basics and try to win."
While her racing ended up being admittedly far from how one would draw it up in the textbook, the West Vancouver product held off Rabbit Hill Ski Club's Hannah Melinchuk by 0.02 seconds for gold after putting up a two-run time of two minutes, 6.23 seconds (2:06.23). However, she was pushing herself and maximizing speed, giving her a little wiggle room for a couple little flubs here and there.
"The runs I was doing well in were not very good," she chuckled. "They were pretty all over the place and I was making a lot of mistakes but they weren't bad mistakes. They were mistakes that were coming from me just trying to push the limits of the course and the hill.
"They ended up working out for me, but they could have ended worse."
Fleckenstein felt at Nakiska she just didn't approach the hill properly, acknowledging she treated the pitches as flats. As well, even after two top-10s at the Nor-Am Cup stop at Panorama in December, the high level of skiing on the circuit still can weigh on her.
"I was reverting back to bad habits I had when I was younger because the Nor-Ams overwhelmed me a little bit," she said. "It was just (a matter of) refocusing and thinking about what I had to do versus what results were going to come out of it."
Fleckenstein will now head east for the final Nor-Am Cup races at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine and Burke Mountain in Vermont beginning March 15. She also plans to compete in the Canadian National Championships in Mont Sainte-Anne, Que. starting up March 26.
"It definitely gives me more confidence going out east," she said. "When you get down, it's hard to brush it off until you get a good result."