Local freeskier Yuki Tsubota is going to X Games, and now the Olympics aren't the longshot they were a year ago.
Tsubota was expecting to have to qualify for X Games at the North Face Park and Pipe Open Series (NFPPOS) in Whistler Jan. 14 to 17, but got a call on Tuesday, Jan. 15 — the day before the women's slopestyle event — to tell her that she has a spot in the biggest slopestyle competition in the world.
It wasn't completely unexpected. She placed second at the AFP World Championships in Whistler back in April, placed second in the opening Dew Cup event and followed up with a seventh place finish in difficult conditions at the Grand Prix in Copper.
Pressure off, she went on to win the NFPPOS with a score of 91.4, over nine points ahead of American Jamie Crane-Mazy. Alexi Micinski of the U.S. placed third in the event, while Canadians Emma Whitman, Maude Raymond, Olivia Lane and Nikki Blackall were fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth to round out the finals.
"It was an amazing contest, Whistler Blackcomb built us such a great park and it's probably one of the best comps I've ever done at home," said Tsubota on Thursday. "I was really surprised with how burly the course was, especially the rails — I was not expecting that at a comp like this, it's more something you'd expect to see at the World Skiing Invitational (AFP World Championships)."
Tsubota has been working on a number of new tricks this season, including more switch tricks and a corked 900 — two and a half rotations and one flip, landing switch.
"I'm really happy that I got to compete a new trick this time," she said. "I had a victory lap on my last run, and so I stepped up and did it. It was nice to do one before I try to do it at X Games."
While she's proven that she belongs with the top skiers on the tour, she also knows it's a big step.
"I don't expect anything," she said, " and actually, I'm really nervous to go. I'm kind of going between wanting to go and not going, because it's pretty intimidating. The X Games are a big deal."
Tsubota works part time in the summers to help pay for her skiing, and received senior carding through Sport Canada this year which provides some money as well as access to resources and programming. Her sponsors have given her a travel budget for this season that she's been drawing on and she's also dipping into her prize money — $12,500 from the Dew Cup alone.
The national slopestyle team doesn't train in Whistler, so she only has access to coaching at contests. She mainly trains by skiing with friends, and gets some help from Jeremy Cooper from the BC Freestyle Team. "He's always been really supportive of me," said Tsubota.
On the men's side, Noah Morrison from the national development team placed first overall, also posting a 91.4. James Campbell and Willie Borm were second and third. Other Canadians in the mix included TJ Schiller in fifth, Jaeden Schneider-Clark in sixth, Keaton Carlson in eighth, Brenden Reid in ninth and Max Morello in 11th.
The event also included a halfpipe competition on Thursday. The top three men were Alex Ferreira of the U.S., Peter Olenick of the U.S. and Xavier Bertoni of France. Whistler's Simon D'Artois, training with the national team this year, made the finals but placed 10th after falling in both his runs.
For the women, the top three were Annalisa Drew, followed by Angeli VanLaanen and Hannah Haupt.
Cassandra Sharpe, a member of the BC Freestyle Team training in Whistler, made the finals but crashed on both runs to place sixth.