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Williamson third at junior worlds

Bathgate cracks top 10 while Lister 11th in Andorra

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Growing up in Whistler helped Rhegan Williamson to a medal at the Freeride Junior World Championships in Andorra.

The 17-year-old skier benefitted from the proximity to mountains, certainly, but the wide continuum of conditions on her home slopes helped prepare her for a less-than-ideal day at Grandvalira-Arcalis. On a blustery day, Williamson took home third place in the women's ski category.

"At this one, the conditions were terrible and the visibility was terrible. It made for a very challenging comp," she said. "It's pretty rewarding and I attribute it to skiing at Whistler Blackcomb for my whole life in fog and wind and variable snow conditions. You get to be able to adapt to them.

"You get a little bit of everything."

The weather affected not only the competitors skiing the course, but also made it a challenge just to get to the start, as officials eventually decided to ask them to walk up after the gondola malfunctioned.

"The gondola wasn't working, so we were sitting around for a couple hours," she said. "As soon as they started saying 'Hey, you guys have got to hike,' I said 'Game on. Let's go do this.'

"Hiking up there was absolutely insane because it was blowing, probably, 120 km/h and we're trying to hike up with skis on our backs. It became this fun mountaineering (adventure) rather than sitting nervously."

Admittedly, just getting to the top took a fair bit out of her, but she still conserved enough energy to get down impressively.

"I was tired, for sure, but we had a good amount of time to crawl our way up there, so I wasn't gasping for air the entire time. There were a lot of times where we had to lie down and wait for the wind to blow over before we could get up and move another 10 feet (three metres)," she said.

In terms of the skiing itself, Williamson felt that even with the treacherous conditions presented on the competition day, there were still a couple of things about her run she'd have liked to do better. All in all, though, she's proud she earned an international medal.

"At the top, I intended to hit an air and I ended up not getting to it. I was a little bit bummed on that, but it ended up working out. I skied fine and didn't crash," she said. "As a skier, you can always look at yourself and critique yourself super hard and just say 'Oh, I could have been more aggressive or I could have gone faster...' It's so easy to say that after the fact but in the moment, it's so hard to be thinking of everything."

Though nailing down a line solely through visual inspection was challenging, it's a process that actually benefits Williamson on the mental side of things.

"Visual inspection seems to make me less nervous, which is kind of funny, but it worked out," she said. "I was feeling pretty comfortable in the moment. I was doing what I love and going into another face that was going to be super fun to ski."

On the men's side, despite an eighth-place finish, Cooper Bathgate felt he could have placed higher. However, some of the conditions made him change his approach to a certain extent.

"I couldn't have skied it that much better, but I was definitely hoping for a little better than eighth," he said. "I approached the top a little more conservatively than I usually would have... I heard that the top was really wind-affected, but the bottom, the snow was blowing into the pockets so the bottom was nice and deep."

And, ultimately, Bathgate decided to ski in a manner he'd be proud of as opposed to what might earn him the maximum number of points.

"I was looking for something fun that I would like to ski at home. I was looking for something that I was fired up to ski as opposed to something that I wanted to ski for the judges," he said.

The other Whistler product, Luke Lister, was a late addition to Team Canada's roster, but made it to Andorra and took 11th.

Before arriving, he wasn't able to compete at an event that allowed only visual inspection — as opposed to North America, where skiers ride the course leading up to the championship — like the other two had.

It was a challenge, he explained.

"It was very difficult (and) the picture we got and the views from the bottom didn't really represent what we could see from the top," he said, noting there were different angles as well as other changes from day to day.

While he'd have liked to have cracked the top 10, it just wasn't Lister's day.

"I wasn't super satisfied, but conditions were hard," he said.

Back in North America, the trio's Whistler Freeride Club teammates were in action at Kicking Horse.

In the female 15 to 18 division, Olivia McNeill took the win, as did Dane Jewett in the male 7-11 category. Other medallists were Wei Tien Ho, who was third in male 12 to 14 and Nate Wilson, who was third in male 7 to 11. Full results are posted at www.freeskiers.org.

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