At just 19 and with two full years of FIL World Cup and Olympic experience under his belt, Reid Watts came into the 2018-19 season as the elder statesman on the Canadian men's singles team.
The departures of Sam Edney and Mitchel Malyk left Watts as the one returnee, joined by fellow Whistlerite Matt Riddle and Albertan Colton Clarke.
"It's weird to adjust from being the rookie on the team to now being the old experienced one. Last season, knowing Sam was retiring, I asked him a lot of questions to learn as much as I possibly could to be put in that elder position," Watts said.
The senior team as a whole has its share of experience, however, with longtime doubles team Tristan Walker and Justin Snith returning, as well as women's veteran Kim McRae.
All are set to be in action this weekend at the Whistler Sliding Centre for the Viessmann FIL World Cup on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
"I'm really looking forward to a home race. I'm starting to feel a lot better on my sled the past couple weeks," Watts said. "I'm going to have a lot of friends and family show up. It's always good to race on home turf."
Riddle, a former doubles partner and close friend of Watts, is also happy to be back home. He switched back to singles late last season after focusing on doubles in recent years and is working on transitioning back. Of the six tracks Riddle has trained at this season, he'd never launched from the men's start at half of them.
"We've been doing a lot of training, especially overseas. This year alone, I've been from three different men's starts, since I'm doing singles again, so it's a lot of learning for me," he said. "To come back to Whistler and have a race (somewhere) where I have a lot more runs is actually really nice and feels really good."
Riddle didn't place highly enough in the Nation Cup qualifier race to make the World Cup event last weekend at Igls, Austria, so making the main event on his list this time. Should he do that, he'll have confidence in the World Cup race.
"From there, getting, bare minimum, in the top 15 is what I'd like to do," he said.
Watts, meanwhile, has had a few growing pains of his own this season. After taking a 12th-place finish at February's Olympics in South Korea, he admittedly had a slow start to the season and is rediscovering his approach.
"I'm starting to pick up from where I left off last season. I started to feel way more comfortable on the sled," he said. "It's just a better feeling. Sometimes, with the long offseason, it takes a little bit to really click, especially after coming off the high of the Olympics. It can be tough to pick up from there.
"It was in Lake Placid. We did a lot of runs there and it's a track that I feel really comfortable on. We had a lot of run volume for a training weekend and I got to feeling more relaxed."
While he's not putting down any numbers, Watts is feeling confident enough in his sliding that if he's performing up to his capabilities, his time will be just fine. One major point of emphasis is that he significantly cut his start times over the summer with strenuous repetition and combined with better lines on track, the effect on his runs should be positive.
"It's all about putting the pieces together, but it's easier said than done. I had a really strong offseason," he said. "Last season, my starts would be in 25th to 28th place, but I moved them up to 11th, which is a really strong advantage to have from the first split.
"From there, it makes it a lot easier real quick."
Watts made it through to the World Cup race at Igls, ultimately placing 22nd. However, his two-run time of one minute, 40.964 seconds (1:40.964) left him just two-tenths of a second out of the top 10.
"Overall, I was happy with the race. I made some small mistakes in my runs and it definitely put me further back than I had hoped to be," he said. "The track in Innsbruck is very, very hard to be fast on. It demands perfection to be in that top spot there."
At this weekend's festival, Friday will see the doubles (starting at 2 p.m.) and men's competitions (starting at 4:40 p.m.) while Saturday will have the women's event start at 9:40 a.m. and the team event at 1 p.m. Tickets are $10 per day for those 13 and older, and free for those 12 and under.
There will be food trucks and a beer garden onsite, and a fireworks display following Friday night's racing.
For more information, visit luge.ca.