When Justin Dorey and Mike Riddle went one-two and Rosalind Groenewoud took first for the ladies at Copper Mountain’s Grand Prix, skiers everywhere looked up. This was the first time freeskiing was included at the Grand Prix, and this AFP points-earning event was crucial to a successful season. The Canadian dreamteam of pipe rippers dominated at Copper, and they’re building quite the reputation for themselves as medal contenders at major halfpipe events. But is raw talenttaking them to the top? Or does training as a team make them stronger individually?
Working as a team seems to be the key to their success. “Its pretty cool having this group together,” Paynter says We try to make it as fun as we can, and I think having that kind of energy of all those people together training at the same time is just a really good environment for progression.” They spend summers coaching at Momentum Ski Camps and Camp of Champions on the glacier in Whistler, then the team heads to New Zealand to get their shred on. Winters are focused on events like the Dew Tour, X Games, and the FIS World Championships in Park City. “We don’t really have a home mountain,” says Matt Margetts. “We’re travelling so much.”
Prior to contests, the team works together, too. “Grand Prix was the first event of the season, but the whole team was in Copper for a few weeks before that,” Dorey says. “So we got some pretty good pipe shredding in before the contest.”
So where did the team come from? Paynter, a former Olympian and mogul skier, was coaching the Alberta Park and Pipe team when they started focusing more on halfpipe. When a number of their skiers, like Mike Riddle and Matt Hayward started doing well, young prodigy Rosalind Groenewoud joined the team. Shortly thereafter, skiing’s mega-star Sarah Burke came on board, too. “She liked the idea of a program with coaching, and having a group of people to train with” Paynter says.
With enough skiers who could compete beyond the national level, the group broke off from the Alberta team. “At that point, we couldn’t stay on the Alberta team if they were focusing on Canadian events. We were off at X Games and World Cups, so there was too much of a split between our skiers and the kids moving up from the clubs. We said ‘let’s just keep going,’ and formed our own program,” said Paynter. “We’ve been on our own ever since.”
Right now, they’re an unofficial team. But that leaves room for certain freedoms. “The athletes run the program.” Paynter says. “For me as a coach, that’s kind of the best way to do it, work directly for the athlete, you don’t have an association dictating your every move. It’s been a struggle to raise money to afford to do it, but no one tells us what to do.”
As far as the Olympics are concerned, Dorey says the team is confident. “We’ve been thinking about the Olympics for a while now, and it’s finally starting to come together. We’re all pretty sure it’s going to get in, so we’re just waiting for that final announcement to set a plan.” And if this season is any indication, the Canadian team will be definite medal threats. --Sally Francklyn