The Whistler Blackcomb National Junior Freeride Challenge saw top skiers and snowboarders coming from far and wide. Still, a number of Whistler Freeride Club (WFC) competitors defended their home snow with podium finishes in the competition, which wrapped on March 18.
In the 15-to-18 divisions, Amanda Constantini topped the women's event, scoring a 57.10 to edge teammate Aoife Gannon's 56.73 and SquawFree's Chloe Nicolaou's 55.13. On the men's side, Matthew MacDonald scored a 69.17 to top Northwest Freeride's Race Bingham (68.23) and independent rider Rhys Higgins (67.67).
In the men's 12-to-14 event, Wei Tien Ho put up the weekend's highest score, a 70.00, eking out a victory over Squaw Valley Big Mountain's Gavin Weber (69.47) and Ullr Big Mountain's Ashton Chilton (69.10). On the women's side, the WFC scored a sweep as Amber Mullings posted a 61.67 to edge Drea Dimma (61.13) and Sofia Guy (60.63).
Constantini thrived all week, excelling in qualifiers, though that success added to her own personal pressure to land her finals run. She also nearly overshot her last attempt on an option few took, but recovered to take an impressive triumph.
"The one other (section) was the moraine drop and that's the section that I went the biggest off of," she said. "I went in with way too much speed and I probably went 20 feet in distance ... I barely held on."
Constantini has enjoyed a solid season competition-wise, placing in the top six in all her events so far. However, she's battled some injury issues in recent weeks that kept her away from skiing for about a month. Constantini returned to the sport just a week before nationals.
After her run, she felt satisfied, but her coaches had some high praise.
"My coaches said 'Wow, I've never seen you ski so well before,'" she recalled. "It was so nice to hear."
MacDonald, meanwhile, was in his final junior competition and picked a fine time to record his first-ever victory. Staying upright is a basic tenet of freeride, but one MacDonald struggled to adhere to in prior events.
"I haven't been that successful in the past with finals. I've always crashed. This time, it worked out well for me," he said. "I usually go for make-it-or-break-it runs and I was a lot more comfortable on this run, more than anything else."
Because of that history, and his tendency to take some risks, MacDonald said he liked his chances when he glided into the finish.
"I felt pretty good when I came over the finish," he said. "I finally landed something.
"I was building up towards this because I've been competing since I was 14. It's been a fun past couple years."
MacDonald plans to test some of the Freeride World Qualifier events next year in the hopes of making it to the world's top level.
Ho, meanwhile, came up big on his first run, which ended up helping significantly. Though his second attempt was solid, several others improved their scores to challenge for top spot. In the end, there was only a two-point difference between first and eighth.
"My first run, luckily, saved me. I was ahead by 0.6 on the second guy," he said. "In finals, I had a bobble at the end, so I didn't get the high score, but thankfully, my first run was high enough to keep me up there."
While Ho said he tries to find lines and features that might fly under the radar with his competition, the nationals course funnelled riders into similar lines because many areas were closed.
"Here, they cut off the course because (the conditions were) icy and they cut off a bit at the top. Everyone was hitting the same lines, so I was skiing it differently, trying to ski it as fast as I can," he said. "It's nerve-wracking, but I tried to get in the zone at the top and block everything out.
"It's just another day of skiing."
The win was a redemptive moment for Ho, who started off the season with a win, but then suffered a couple crashes before rebounding at a recent event in Mount Baker.
"Here, I turned everything around at the end,"Ho said. "It definitely was the highlight of the year."