Mikael Kingsbury and Alex Bilodeau reminded everyone who the favourites will be come Olympic time, opening the World Cup moguls tour with a one-two finish in Finland.
World champion Kingsbury topped the podium in Ruka on Saturday, Dec. 14 by edging Olympic champ Bilodeau in the first event of the season. Japan's Sho Endo finished third, while Whistler's Eddie Hicks placed 19th.
Kingsbury won the season-opener for the third year in a row, scoring a 26.93 in the superfinal to beat out Bilodeau's impressive run (26.54).
"I love Ruka," said Kingsbury. "I had my first World Cup podium here in 2010. Now I have four podiums in four events."
Australia's Dale Begg-Smith, the 2006 Olympic gold medallist who learned to ski in Whistler as a child, competed for the first time since 2010 and finished fifth.
Hicks, who missed nearly all of last season due to injuries from a training crash at Ruka, scored a 22.19 in the qualifying round but fell just short of the top 16 skiers advancing to the final.
In an email to Pique, Hicks said it was tough getting back into his first event but that there were encouraging signs in his skiing.
"It's for sure been a longer road back from injury than I thought it would be," he said. "The little things are always the last to come back, but the past few days my skiing has really been coming back to competition form and I've been pretty stoked."
Other Canadian results included Philippe Marquis in 10th place, Pascal-Olivier Gagne finishing 12th and Marc-Antoine Gagnon placing 24th. With Kingsbury and Bilodeau's results officially confirming their place in Sochi, no more than two other Canadian men will be able to qualify for the Olympics.
Quebec's Justine Dufour-Lapointe finished second in the women's event, won by U.S. skier Hannah Kearney. Chloe Dufour-Lapointe placed fifth for Canada, Audrey Robichaud was ninth and B.C.'s Andi Naude finished 16th.
DUCKWORTH MAKES FIRST FINAL
Alexandra Duckworth notched a career-best World Cup finish as the women's World Cup snowboard halfpipe circuit continued at Ruka, but had to squeeze a fellow Whistler rider out of the finals to do it.
Duckworth placed sixth on Friday, Dec. 13 for the top Canadian result in men's or women's competition. The Nova Scotia native was unable to land a clean run in the six-rider final but was happy with her finish.
"This was my first World Cup final and I'm really excited about my showing here," she said. "Unfortunately I think I felt some fatigue in the finals and fell both times on my biggest trick."
Duckworth earned the second of two entries to the final with a score of 63.75 during Friday's semis, while Whistler's Mercedes Nicoll ended up third at 63.00 and had to settle for a seventh-place finish.
"I changed up my run for the semis. I went for an easier run and kinda messed up on my last hit," Nicoll said in an email to Pique. "Being .75 out from finals was frustrating for sure, but lesson learned ... I don't want to walk away from a contest knowing I could have done more."
China's Shuang Li won the event. Canadian riders Katie Tsuyuki and Calynn Irwin finished 11th and 12th, respectively.
Ontario's Brad Martin had the best Canadian finish in the men's event by placing eighth. Pemberton's Crispin Lipscomb finished 16th, Whistler rider Derek Livingston was 17th and fellow local Kyle Thomas placed 22nd.