In the first big-air competition of the FIS World Cup season, Yuki Tsubota wasn't going to bust out anything brand new.
Relying on old standbys like the left 900 tail grab and a right 540 mute grab, Tsubota took third in the competition at Cardrona Alpine Resort in New Zealand on Sept. 7. Her two-run combined score of 146 was narrowly off the 147.8 posted by runner-up Caroline Claire of the United States. However, Canadian teammate Elena Gaskell set the standard with a two-run score of 170.4, including a best run of 93.
"Elena killed it. I'm really proud of her," Tsubota said.
Even though only five competitors started the event, Tsubota was happy with her performance, especially as she shakes off the summer rust.
"It was a good way to start the season. It wasn't the biggest field of girls, which was unfortunate. Some of them got hurt and some of them decided not to come," she said.
Tsubota, a two-time Olympian, described the event as one where competitors needed to hit the ground running, as she estimated the jump to be roughly 100 feet (30 metres) in height, whereas the other jumps she's encountered are usually about 15 to 20 metres.
"I did tricks I knew how to do well and executed them well. It was a really big jump. To be honest, it was probably the biggest jump I've ever hit, so it was scary," she said. "It was one of those things where you need a couple days to get used to (it).
"The day of the contest was perfect weather, no wind. You couldn't have asked for better weather, which was nice."
However, the days leading up to the competition were difficult as the conditions refused to remain consistent, and Tsubota explained competitors couldn't make many assumptions from one run to the next.
"(In training), we had a little bit of headwind, tailwind," she said. "It was hard to get used to it and get comfortable doing your tricks."
"It dipped down so much in the belly and you had quite a long way to go up the jump, so you'd lose a lot of speed ... There were days where we were tucking from the top and just making it.
"It can be really hard to judge your speed because you're coming in so fast, your clothes are just flapping everywhere. It feels the same every time but it's not."
Tsubota said she's now home for two weeks, then off to Switzerland for another camp. The next World Cup is in Austria in November
"It's more of a jump camp," she said of the Swiss trip. "It's just nice to get used to hitting big jumps again."
Gaskell, in her first-ever victory, was joyous after stomping her run.
"My training was bad so I was nervous coming in. My first jump, I kept it pretty simple just doing a 720. Then my second jump I did one of my harder tricks, the switch 12 and landed so I was pretty stoked. It's a good way to start the season off," Gaskell told the FIS website.
On the men's side in New Zealand, Switzerland's Andri Ragettli edged Canada's Evan MacEachran 182 to 180.4 to claim the win, while New Zealand's Finn Bilous was just back in third with a 180.2.
Canadian Alex Beaulieu-Marchand took sixth and Whistler's Teal Harle ended up eighth. Fellow Canadian Noah Morrison was ninth.
Full results are available online at www.fis-ski.com.