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The Sport Chek Air Nation Freestyle Nationals presented by Mazda and Burton went down last week (Mar. 5-12th) in Calgary, Alberta. Riders traded in their lift tickets and sought to the air, flying across the city that surrounds the 1988 Olympic venue, Winsport.
It was many of the rider’s first trip to the world-class training facility, and all agreed they would be back. Backed on to the Western Championships, it was a week for riders to gather and meet new friends and challenge themselves to compete against the best in the country. With the glimpses of the Rockies peaking in the distance, Mother Nature Cooperated and brought us Sunshine all week long.
The event kicked off with the Junior and Senior halfpipe. The 22 ft – Olympic standard – Superpipe housed every ability from the young groms 12 and under to developing World Cup athletes.
In Jr Halfpipe the Podium gave just a glimpse of things to come for halfpipe in this country, with some of the heavy heats coming in the 13 and under Categories with Tyson Lewis, Dane Menzies and Brooke D’Hondt showing that the future is bright.
The Jr National Halfpipe Overall Podium saw Shawn Fair standing in first place with huge amplitude, and paying homage to Calgary legend Mike Michaelchuck, by throwing a few Michael Chucks in for good luck. 2nd Place went to Kiran Pershard of Ontario and Calgary’s Michael Modesti took 3rd place.
For the Ladies, Becca Ballentynes training with Winsport and coach Josh Duncan has been paying off and got her to the top of the podium again with pretty methods and a backside three. In second was triple threat Brooke D’Hondt who has been on the podium all season in BX, Slope and Pipe and all at only 12 years of age. In third was Molly Hignell back on snow after a fractured elbow kept her out most of the season.
Between Jr and Sr Halfpipe was the Coaches Challenge and family Jam. Family teams grouped together to ride the pipe and the Next Gen team were the judges for the event. Next Gen rider, Jack Collins and Dad, Jeff Collins 55 who was a regular in pipe poaching sessions over the past 10 years took 1st, Rookie and Turtle Hicks took second with Dad Hicks working on Front 5’s at 43 and Turtle on Methods and Front 3’s at the age of 7. In third was Board Collector Mike Gostola and his amazing little shredders Noah and Maelle Shaw.
The Coaches event was heated with 3 former National pipe team riders, Josh Duncan, Gab Dussault and Crispin Lipscombe all looking for the coveted title of Top Gun Coach. In the end Josh took top place with Haakonflips and solid Airs.
For Senior Halfpipe the Ladies side Olympian and Canadian National Team member, Calynn Irwin (Toronto, ON), took the win with Smooth Style, and lofty front 5’s. Calynn showed her time spent in the Winsport pipe has certainly paid off and the girls were so stoked to have her in town to inspire them and push their riding to the next level.
Becca Ballantyne (_Orilla_, ON) in her second event of the day placed 2nd and Taylor Obregon (_Minn, USA_) finished 3rd.
On the men’s side Shawn Fair (Calgary, AB) who has been cleaning house at Winsport events all season took home his third win in a week with his huge back to back 9’s. Jason Wolle_Winterpark, CO_,USA) with one of the largest, smoothest runs we have seen all year placed 2nd. Style master, Jack Collins of Calgary, AB is always a fan favourite with his unique and stylish runs landed in 3rd.
The Source / Billabong/ Mazda Grom event followed the next day and all 100+ kids from aged 3-12, lit up the night with their Star wars light sabres while riding down the mini halfpipe. The judges were comprised of athletes competing in Air Nation Nationals with the small twist that they would be judging in their chosen Star wars costumes. The kids were over joyed being among their idols – dressed up in Chewbacca’s and storm troopers – while Star wars theme music echoed from the on-hill sound system. The Force is strong and the future is bright with snowboarding in Alberta.
Senior slope was on the east line of Winsport’s park with a 3-feature rail line followed by three 50-ft+ jumps. Next Gen rider Jasmine Baird (Mississauga, ON) took the top spot with her cab underflip and run consisting of insane solid tricks like back board to fakie and a cab underflip 5. She was followed by NexGen rider Sommer Gendron (Toronto, ON) with silver, and National Team rider Baily McDonald (Barrie, ON) taking the bronze. On the Men’s side NexGen rider William Buffey took the gold with heavy rail section with front 50 transfer backlip and an impressive jump line consisting of two 9’s and a front 10. Liam Brearley (Gravenhurst, ON) taking silver, and Sean Fitzsimons who travel up from the US earned bronze.
Friday night at the Sports Hall of fame at Winsport was the Sport Chek, Top Guns Banquet. 200 athletes volunteers and parents enjoyed tacos and were entertained by the 8 team video Submissions. It came down to the final two, Breeze Boys and Riders on Board. The Riders on Board video, took home the top spot showcasing very little snowboarding but highlighting that snowboarding is and always will be about having fun with your friends.
Saturday was the Big Air Day, the ladies taking flight off the first jump in the Big Line and the Gents were throwing down off the second “money booter” – jump number 2 – on east line. Sommer Gendron (Toronto, ON) took the top spot among the women with a Cab 5 and a backside 7. Jasmine Baird (Mississauga, ON) earned silver and Jackie Carlson (Oakville, ON) placing 3rd. NexGen rider Francis (Frank) Jobin (Quebec City, QC) took the top spot with a Switch back double ten to the moon and a front double ten. Fellow teammate Jack MacDougall (Grand Prairie, AB) taking silver, and Nicolas Laframboise (Saint-Agathe-des-Monts, QC) earning bronze.
The final event was Junior Slopestyle taking place on the ‘west line’ of Winsport’s terrain park. Not a peep of wind on this day. Sun was blazing and delayering was a thing. The kids brought their A game and threw down impressive runs all around. Among the women Ally Grenier was on top with a run consisting of Front 3,back 3, backflip and a back board on the rails. Janaye Prieb (Melville, SK) placed 2nd and Andie Gendron placed 3rd. On the men’s side Nicolas Laframboise (Saint-Agathe-des-Monts, QC) got the gold with a run consisting of large spins and technical rails. Liam Brearley (Gravenhurst, ON) placed 2nd, Cameron Spalding at the ripe old age of 12 took the bronze.
What an amazing week for the progression of snowboarding. Canadian Nationals have always been a great end event in a busy season of travelling with friends to epic spots. From the 3 year old’s ripping the mini pipe, to Cam Spalding standing on the podiums at 12, to watching the NextGen team destroy the big line rails and jumps, the future is strong for Canada and the Snowboarding scene. Looking forward to seeing what the riders bring to Winsport’s Air Nation Nationals next year.
All Photos [o] Mike Hopkins