Matthew Wilcox didn't have all that long to prepare for the first WIN Canada Cup Canadian Open Tour slopestyle event of the season.
With snow slow to descend on his home hill, Blue Mountain, in Collingwood, Ont., Wilcox said he only came to Whistler two weeks before the Jan. 14 final and had to get up to speed quickly.
And he did just that, besting local skier Taylor Wilson 87.4 to 84.4 to win the men's category and the $1,000 prize that went with it. Brayden Tritter rounded out the podium after scoring 82.4 in the 16-competitor field.
"Everybody was riding really well, but I focused on my strengths, which was grabs and amplitude. I managed to put together the run exactly how I wanted to do it," he said. "The judges apparently liked it.
"I made sure to hold my grabs fully on the rodeo 900 and the guitar grab on the switch 1080 on the bottom. Those were definitely my strong points."
As he embarks on his third season in Whistler, Wilcox is impressed with the season skiers have enjoyed thus far and gushed about the training he got in after his arrival back in the resort.
"I have never seen it as good as it is now for mid-January. The jumps are the best jumps in Canada to be training on, so I'm very privileged to call Whistler my home," he said.
Wilcox hoped the terrain would be better than it was closer to home, but with the competitive season looming, he knew it was time to follow the snow and his dreams.
"It started off in Ontario, where it was very slow, but I moved out here after Christmas where the snow was," he said. "I started riding two weeks ago and I carried a bit of momentum into this contest just riding the park every day. Apparently the training paid off.
"I went up there every day and I rode the same line the contest was held on. That clearly benefitted me... Within those two weeks, I managed to get everything I needed for the contest."
Wilcox was out of competitive action for all of 2015 after knee surgery that was the result of a torn ACL and meniscus. His dedication to his six-month rehab allowed him to ski toward the tail end of the year, but after essentially being off for last winter, Wilcox is pleased with how strong he feels heading into this campaign.
"This is my first big season (since surgery) and it couldn't have started any better," he said. "I got on snow a bit in spring, but that's when the snow was melting. I went back to Ontario to landscape and save up for the ski season and now I'm back here to repeat another season of competing and training."
Whistler local Wilson, meanwhile, was proud of how he performed on his home course, especially with it being one of the more low-pressure events on his slate.
He noted he took a slightly different approach than several of his challengers.
"I was able to go big, hold my grabs long and land fairly cleanly," Wilson said. "A lot of people threw doubles but I kept it clean, tried to grab well and it worked out well.
"I did a switch unnat (1080) and went really big, held the grab long and landed well, so I think that was one of them (that scored big points) right in front of the (judges') stand."
Though navigating the park is nearly second nature for Wilson and he felt some advantage heading into the event, the quality skiers that came out and challenged the event could get a handle on it relatively quickly.
"I've hit the jumps so many times that they were so comfortable, but everyone got a lot of training, so it was pretty good," he said.
As for the women, Vernon's Elena Gaskell handily took home the women's title, posting a score of 82.8. Albertan Megan Cressey was second with an even 78 and Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Ski Club's Sofia Tchernetsky placed third, scoring a 74.8.
With the women's competition all crammed into one day, while the men were spread out over two, Gaskell performed well throughout various challenges to take home the win.
"My training was really good in the morning, then qualifiers went very well. Training for finals was good and finals just came together," she said, noting she was proud of her off-axis tricks like the cork 720 and misty 720. "In the morning, it was really nice, and then it got foggy, and then it got sunny again."