Yuki Tsubota came up huge at California's Mammoth Mountain on Jan. 24.
The Whistler slopestyle skier, who turns 22 on Feb. 3, picked up an early birthday present with a dominating win at the U.S. Grand Prix — her first-ever podium finish on the World Cup circuit.
Tsubota threw down a run of 84.40, well ahead of Swiss competitor Giulia Tanno (77.40) and Emma Dahlstrom of Sweden (76.20). Fellow Canadians Nikki Blackall and Kim Lamarre were sixth and seventh, respectively. The men's finals saw Evan McEachran place ninth.
"On the rails, I was pretty happy. I ran some new things over the winter break," Tsubota said.
Tsubota pulled off the victory without much warm-up time, as heavy snowfall and strong winds forced most of the training to be cancelled.
"We didn't really ski all week because of the weather. All of our training kept being cancelled," she said. "We were able to hit the rails but not the jumps. I didn't hit the jumps until the day of the contest.
"It was pretty stressful."
In addition to the reduced training time, the course itself was also abbreviated, with the last jump being eliminated. Tsubota explained it changed her approach to the course, as she had a good number of skills she wanted to show off in that section.
"They ended up taking the last jump out of the course because we didn't have enough speed for it, so it only ended up being a two-jump course," she said. "It was either I spin all one way and do one switch trick or spin two ways and no trick. Because I hadn't hit the jumps at all, I ended up doing two forward tricks by spinning both ways.
"I honestly would have preferred it to be three jumps so I could do all three, but it wasn't possible so I made it work."
The win rocketed Tsubota up the FIS rankings into second place with two competitions remaining. Her 129 points trail only Norway's Tiril Sjaastad Christiansen, who has 145 heading into next month's showdowns in Bokwang, South Korea and Silvaplana, Switzerland.
"I'm in second place for the Crystal Globe, so that's my main goal this season," she said. "I think it's a possibility and would be pretty cool."
Though Tsubota hasn't been to either of the upcoming locales, she explained parks are similar enough that once a rider has acclimatized to the jumps, the tricks they know like the backs of their hands should come easy.
"We've done them hundreds of times. It's just about getting used to the jumps," she said.
In the halfpipe event at Mammoth, Whistler resident Cassie Sharpe placed sixth. The men's finals had to be cancelled due to the inclement weather, but Noah Bowman was the top Canadian in ninth in qualifiers.
Tsubota spoke from Aspen, Colo. where the 2016 Winter X Games are set to run from Jan. 28 to 31. As an alternate, she is operating essentially on standby, needing another athlete to drop out to make room for her in the competition.
"I have my fingers crossed," she said. "I didn't really care so much before, and now that I won the last event, I really want to go. I really want to compete."