Tom Velisek spent much of his winter on snow, yes, but it was almost entirely spent snowmobiling.
The former World Cup racer, who has four podium appearances to his name, opted against buying a season's pass for any resort this year and can count on one hand the number of times he strapped on his board before this weekend's Neil Edgeworth Memorial Banked Slalom at Big White.
"I haven't actually been on snow all year except for Oakley week. My friend had me up there helping out and so I got a free pass there and rode for four days," he said.
So Velisek wasn't expecting much when he went east to Big White for this year's races, surprising himself when he won the pro men's event on April 7.
The race usually runs in a natural halfpipe, but lack of snow forced it into the park. In past years, when the regular location wasn't viable, the race was held on the boarder-cross course. This year's race, though, ran through the larger halfpipe, which was peppered with an ongoing gauntlet of gates. Velisek said his experience eventually won out.
"(The course) was actually a lot better in my mind, in my opinion, than it would have been on the boarder-cross course," Velisek said. "You didn't have time to think, you had to read and react all the way down."
Velisek explained that typically, riders would post their best runs on the first day of two because on the second day the course would be so worn down—and there was a fear if that happened it would be moved to the boarder-cross course on Day 2. However, a dump of snow saved the halfpipe and the event stayed put. After being first out of the gate and going through some pow on Day 1, the events ran in reverse order on Day 2. Velisek, who had the second-best showing on Day 1, cut nearly five seconds to pull off the win.
"It got nice and sunny and warm, so with the fresh snow and all the hundreds of riders that went through, it was really nice. Everything was glazed and fast and in good shape," he said. "That's why the times got so much quicker."
Velisek has attended the race every year since retiring from the national team in 2011, especially as during his career, it regularly conflicted with nationals.
"It's an excuse for everyone to come back out and see each other again," he said. "It's more relaxed. You're not worried about your results so much. You're there just to have a good time and catch up with old friends that you haven't seen in a year, or in some cases, 16 years."
Plenty of Whistler and Pemberton riders excelled at the event, including: Amalia Pelchat (first in female 11-and-under); Grayson Barth (first in male 11-and-under); Samarra Wrightson (second in female 12-to-14); Anthony Shelly (first in male 12-to-14); Hazel Poland and Serina Sato (second and third, respectively, in female 19-to-24); Ellen Barbour (first in female 25-to-34); JF Pelchat (third in male pro masters 40-plus); Vanessa Stark (third in female 35-to-44); Antoine Malingrey (first in male 35-to-44); Schalene Shelly (second in female 45-to-49); and Dominique Vallee (third in female pro).
In the switch event, meanwhile, local podium performers were: Amalia Pelchat and Cora Campos (first and second, respectively, in female 11-and-under); Serina Sato (first in female 19-to-24); Ellen Barbour, Mai Arakawa, and Sarah Haley (first, second and third, respectively, in female 25-to-34); Saeko Kimura and Runa Nakamura (first and second, respectively, in women's pro); Anthony Shelly (first in male 12-to-14); Eli Tindall and Justin Cheesman (second and third, respectively, in male 19-to-24); Nicolas Verly and John-Phillip Folk (first and second, respectively, in male 25-to-34); Antoine Malingrey, Jonathan Marquis and Charles Renaud-Roy (first, second and third, in order, in male 35-to-44); Mark Wrightson (second in male 45-to-49); and JF Pelchat (first in male pro master's 40-plus).
Kimura, the women's pro switch winner, wrote in an email that she has lived in Whistler for the past three years after coming from Japan to follow her dream of becoming a pro snowboarder. She was thrilled to take the win while among friends.
"This event is a competition but it has friendly and warm vibes," she wrote. "It was tougher, more challenging and more fun than last two years."
Like Velisek, Kimura agreed that the new course this year benefitted her, especially with the increased number of slalom gates to get around.
Full results are online at the BC Snowboard Facebook page.