New-fallen snow at Whistler Olympic Park created additional excitement on Saturday during the Haywood NorAm freestyle sprints in Whister, BC. The deciding factor became who could best adjust to the slow powder while navigating the usual sprint-day tangles.
Phil Widmer (Alberta World Cup Academy) led the men’s A-final from the start, and crossed the line in first to headline an AWCA podium sweep with his first victory of the season. Teammates Graham Nishikawa (AWCA) and Jesse Cockney (AWCA) came in second and third, respectively. Brent McMurtry (Foothills/CNST) finished fourth, Michael Somppi (NDC Thunder Bay) fifth and Drew Goldsack (Rocky Mountain Racers/CNST) sixth.
“I tried to ski at the front of my heats for the most part,” said Widmer. He was able to execute his plan, which enabled him to ski clear of collisions behind him.
Skiing from the front was especially important, as six inches of new snow that accumulated Friday night and through Saturday morning made for an especially slow course. Despite fresh grooming, the best line on the course became more packed than the others throughout the day. The softer, slower outer lanes made passing a challenge.
“It kind of shrunk the course,” Widmer explained. “If you had to pass, you had to conserve energy and make a big effort to be able to move up. It kind of wrecked havoc all day.”
Runner-up Nishikawa agreed. He started off the day by posting the fastest qualifying time, which is his best-ever qualifier.
“Fresh snow made it a little tricky—there wasn’t much space to move around,” he said. “The final was pretty entertaining: a lot of tangles, a few big falls, but I managed to stay away from them.”
Nishikawa managed to lead his earlier heats, but got off to a slow start in the final.
“I was in the back, and it was messy for some sections, but that’s sprint racing,” he said. “There was one really big crash at the end, but I sidestepped that.”
Not everyone was so lucky. Drew Goldsack (Rocky Mountain Racers/CNST) took the brunt of the crash and wound up breaking both a pole and a ski.
“It was pretty hairy,” said Cockney, who also got caught in the finishing tangle.
Though he felt like his legs failed him on Saturday, Cockney hopes his third-place finish will be enough to secure his spot on Canada’s U23 Championship team. The races in Whistler on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday serve as the trials for both the U23 and World Junior teams that will compete in Erzurum, Turkey this February.
Competitors in the freestyle sprint have just one night to recover from their effort on Saturday—racing resumes Sunday with a 10/15 k classic race.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.