Today marked the last competition day after a long stint for our freeski teams in Aspen, Colorado. Following two weeks of competing in World Championships and World Cups, our halfpipe team wrapped things up by bringing home some hardware. Canada’s Rachael Karker of Guelph, ON, and Brendan Mackay of Calgary, AB, finished the day in first and second respectively. Both athletes achieved career milestones, Karker earning her first-ever World Cup win with Mackay stepping onto the podium for his second World Cup silver medal.
The day started with less than ideal course conditions. A snowstorm rolled through overnight that delivered half a foot of fresh snow. The athletes dealt with variable conditions throughout the event. The Aspen sky provided almost every type of weather from snowfall and flat light, to sun and soft snow.
“The concern really was whether or not the flat bottom of the halfpipe was going to hold up today,” mentioned head halfpipe coach Trennon Paynter. “The course crew did such a great job prepping everything and it held up fine for us.”
On the women’s side, Karker came into the only halfpipe World Cup event of the season with a silver medal from last week’s World Championships. Feeling confident, the 23-year-old put down a solid performance. Right out of the gate, Karker landed a smooth, near-perfect run that earned her a massive score of 93.00. This set the bar high for the other female competitors who had three runs to make their best one count.
After run one, Karker was currently holding the top spot with Great Britain’s Zoe Atkin and USA’s Brita Sigourney trailing in second and third, scoring 90.50 and 87.50 respectively. The rankings stayed the same throughout runs two and three, although each skier improved their scores by the end of the day.
Karker was the final skier to drop in for run three. It was already set in stone that she was today’s winner, but still attempted to perfect her run. It wasn’t your typical victory lap for the Canadian; Karker changed things up by including a right flair on her fourth hit, adding some technicality to her signature run. “I rather go and try to ski better than I did before,” mentioned Karker when asked about improving her run. The judges rewarded her efforts to out-ski herself and bumped her score up to 93.50, 1.75 points ahead of Atkin’s final score of 91.50. Sigourney’s third place score came in at 89.
“I’m really happy, this is the perfect way to end the season,” mentioned Karker after her victory. “We only had three contests this year, but I’m super happy to land a spot on all three podiums. This event is part of our qualifier [for the Olympics] so definitely makes me feel really good going into next year.” The three contests included X Games, World Championships and one World Cup, which was certainly a compressed season for the halfpipe squad.
“It’s so great for her, she certainly earned it,” stated coach Trennon Paynter on Karker’s first World Cup gold medal. “She’s been working hard, she’s been hitting the podium consistently for a couple of seasons now. It’s great to see her stand on top.” Karker unquestionably has been one of the most consistent and successful female halfpipe skiers. She has now seven World Cup podiums, one World Champs silver and three X Games medals.
On the men’s side, Brendan Mackay celebrated a silver medal placing behind USA’s Aaron Blunck, today’s top skier. New Zealand’s Nico Porteous was the bronze medalist.
Mackay was granted a spot in today’s finals after qualifying first in his heat on Friday. It’s fair to say that Mackay redeemed himself after a disappointing World Champs finals. The Calgary native had a similar situation last week where he qualified first for the World Championship finals, but was unable to put down a clean run and finished seventh.
Today was a different story, clean runs were all that Mackay showcased. With the conditions being tricky this morning, it was clear that most of the field skied conservatively during run one. However, Mackay was able to put down a stylish run with three doubles and significant amplitude. This put him into first with a score of 92.75, ahead of USA’s David Wise and Porteous for the meantime.
During run two, Mackay added more technicality to his run by including four double flip variations, but did not improve his score after slightly clipping the coping on one of his switch doubles. Porteous took the opportunity to overtake the top spot and improved his score to a 94, bumping Mackay into second place.
During run three, USA’s Aaron Blunck performed the best run of the day earning a near-perfect score of 96, pushing Porteous and Mackay down into second and third.
It was now time for Mackay’s third and final run. With the sun out and the halfpipe back in top shape, the 23-year-old was now sitting in third place. “During the final run the halfpipe was in prime condition, the speed was there, everything was there. I knew I was going to end the day on the podium but still wanted to put a better run down,” stated Mackay. He did just that, cleaning up his tricks and taking advantage of the speed to boost amplitude. Mackay was awarded a 95 for his final run, a mere 0.50 ahead of Porteous’s third-place score of 94.50.
“I think this puts me in a good place for next season and it would be really awesome to go to the Olympics so fingers crossed,” added Mackay after his performance.
Noah Bowman of Calgary, AB, was the lone other Canadian competing in today’s finals. The 28-year-old qualified third in his heat on Friday, but was unfortunately unable to put down his best run today. Bowman finished the day in seventh place.
The team will now be travelling home to begin their two week quarantine after which they will re-group in Calgary to take advantage of the local halfpipe before the snow melts.
Complete World Cup Halfpipe Results:
CANADIAN ATHLETES’ PLACINGS:
Women: Rachael Karker (1), Amy Fraser (9), Dillan Glennie (21)
Men: Brendan Mackay (2), Noah Bowman (7), Andrew Longino (14), Evan Marineau (20), Dylan Marineau (34), Simon d’Artois (36)