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Pipeline to the Games

Ski halfpipe team hosts camp in Whistler to train for upcoming qualifiers

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"I hope we're still having fun, and I hope that won't change because it's a huge part of it; nobody is going to succeed in it if they're not enjoying it," said Paynter. "In terms of adjusting to the team structure, it's nothing really new, and it's already something they decided they wanted years ago. They wanted it so badly that a few years ago they formed a team and paid for me to be the coach — it's not like we had to come in and sell this thing to them. This is how they wanted to approach the sport — take it seriously, have a team and follow a program."

Of all the freeski disciplines, halfpipe is easily the most technical because the margin for error is so small — after jumping three to five metres over the edge while twisting, flipping and grabbing, athletes have to land in a small area of the transition or they risk hitting the deck, landing too low on the transition, landing sideways and losing their speed or flat-out crashing. Each routine has to be practiced over and over so athletes can match the level of precision their sport requires — and as the degree of difficult of tricks goes up, that level of precision gets higher and higher.

That's why the spine and air bag camp was so valuable, providing the athlete with a safe place to perfect their harder competition tricks.

"Everyone on the team has something different they're working on," said Paynter. "In terms of coaching, with some athletes we're working on strategy, while with others we're talking about technique. For some it's just working with them on how they approach a day of training or competitions so they get the most out of it. So it's really pretty individual. Some were out here working on a brand new trick, or working on their technique, while others may just be putting mileage in on a trick they already know how to do.

"You don't want to bog them down with a tech lecture every time, sometimes you have to let them go and let the miles build up."

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In the Dew Cup at Breckenridge in December, Justin Dorey and Mike Riddle were first and third in the men's halfpipe, while Rosalind Groenewoud placed third for the women. Matt Margetts was ninth in the men's event while Keltie Hansen was sixth for the women.

It was a strong start for the team, which has a handful of chances this year to secure spots in the Olympics. Next up for the team is the Sprint U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, which gets underway on Jan. 7 — an event that is also considered a World Cup this season by the International Skiing Federation and a legitimate Olympic qualifier. Then there's X Games for many of the athletes, and the North Face Park and Pipe Series in Whistler for athletes' that don't get to go to the X Games. In February, there's an Olympic test event in Sochi, Russia, followed by more World Cup and pro events through to the spring leading up to the AFP World Championships in Whistler.