WESTLOCK – Local athletes with the Tawatinaw Valley Freeriders (TVFR) recently made their mark at the Canadian Junior Nationals with two finishing atop the podium.
TVFR alumnus Ty Kargus of Athabasca and current member Sage Korth also of Athabasca, took the U16 overall titles and first place in their respective Big Air freestyle events at the 2023 Canadian Junior National Park & Pipe Championships March 31- April 2 at the WinSport Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.
Korth also finished third overall in the halfpipe final and third in the U16 slopestyle category and sixth overall, while Kargus also finished in second in U16 slopestyle and second overall.
“It's a super good feeling,” said Kargus, of his first-place finish, noting he spent seven years with the TVFR. “This was a good experience with all the best U18 athletes throughout the country. I saw how they skied, saw their strengths, their weaknesses and I got to meet lots of them.”
Korth, who has spent the last nine seasons with the TVFR, said she was also thrilled to compete in her first Canadian Junior National Championships.
“It's super exciting. It's been a goal to even just qualify for (Canadian Junior Nationals) for a few years now, so to go there and actually medal was beyond what I expected,” said Korth, who not only credits the TVFR ski club but her coach, Mike Flewelling, with her success. Flewelling himself is a former Canadian Junior National competitor who is now coaching the next generation of skiers.
“He's made a huge contribution to, not even these events but just my entire skiing career,” she said, noting the extra time and training he has spent with her. “To training sessions, extra time and an excessive amount of effort beyond what is expected. I definitely think that's what helped me reach this goal was definitely my coach.”
Several other TVFR members also competed in the junior nationals in Calgary in the halfpipe, slopestyle and big air events, including Avery Macyk, who finished fourth in U16 Slopestyle and sixth overall, Sophie Macyk, who finished third in U14 Slopestyle and fourth in U14 Big Air, and Sydney Plemel, while Westlock’s Mike Smith competed in the 2023 Canadian Junior National Mogul Championships in the U18 category and finished eighth.
The junior nationals is the highest-level national event for U18 athletes, between the ages of 12 to 17. In addition to the park and pipe championships in Calgary, the 2023 Canadian Junior National Mogul Championships which also features dual moguls and aerial events, were held March 8-12 in Caledon, Ont. where Smith competed.
“Qualifying was great, it was very good feeling,” said Smith. “That was one of my big goals for the year so it was a good feeling to be to be able to go and travel out east.”
Smith also credits the TVFR, where he spent more than six of the last 10 years of his skiing career, with inspiring him to work hard and focus on improving. “That really got me into skiing. I started progressing and I found my specialty — what I enjoyed more and that was moguls,” he said. “I spent a lot of time working very hard on them, keeping in condition and just putting myself at the most optimal point to do well.
“Tawatinaw is the only reason why I like to ski, it is the reason why I even thought about going to junior nationals,” he added.
Each junior national series (moguls and freestyle) had around 100 skiers from across Canada, competing in the different disciplines in U14, U16 and U18 age categories, noted Alberta Freestyle Skiing Association director of sport Jeremy Cooper.
“(Tawatinaw Valley is) producing good quality from athletes who are really coming through with a really strong understanding of the basics and those basic skills once mastered, really help these athletes to develop their own style and set them apart from, the rest of the field, which is why the end up on top,” said Cooper. “They've got such a solid foundation of skill that they're gaining from being a part of the Tawatinaw Valley Freestyle Club.”
Freestyle Alberta has 13 member clubs across the province including the TVFR and as the second largest freestyle association in Canada in terms of membership, behind British Columbia. They had 23 spots at the junior nationals this year and had to choose skiers based on results and performance from this current season, explained Cooper.
“That encompasses our coaching pathway, our training, our events, our clubs (and) it's made-up of 13 clubs from around the province,” said Cooper. “Some clubs offer full year-round programming, some are more developmental and some focus more towards the park disciplines, others more towards moguls so there's a bit of a mosaic of different clubs within the province that provide grassroots up to high performance level coaching and programming for recreational use as well as competitive.”