Ripe for The Pipe
World Cup Ski Halfpipe Champs Talk about Training at Whistler Blackcomb and Beyond
Photo Simon d’Artois
As one of North America’s biggest and most popular ski resorts, Whistler has naturally become home to quite a few professional skiers and snowboarders. If you know their faces, it’s not uncommon to spot well-known pro riders on the chairlifts, cruising through the Village or grabbing some lunch.
Two Canadian professional skiers who spend time skiing and training in Whistler are Simon d’Artois and Cassandra (Cassie) Sharpe. Both are currently at the top of their game, both having won the World Cup Crystal Globe trophies last season in their respective Ski Halfpipe disciplines. We spoke to Sharpe and d’Artois about riding and training in Whistler and got an inside perspective on how much time pro skiers and riders need to spend travelling to competitions and other training grounds.
D’Artois has lived in Whistler his whole life, first hitting the slopes at age 3. Now 27, he joined the Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Ski Club at age 15 and was selected for the Canadian National Halfpipe Ski Team in 2011. Before last season’s overall win, d’Artois had also won a gold medal at the 2015 Winter X-Games and finished in 13th place at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Cassie Sharpe was born in Comox on Vancouver Island and spent five years living in Whistler after finishing high school. She moved to North Vancouver two years ago but frequently visits Whistler to ski and train. Also 27, Sharpe joined the Canadian National Halfpipe Ski Team in 2014 and has recently been dominating the women’s halfpipe scene. She won the gold medal at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, two golds at the Winter X-Games in 2016 and 2019 and won her second consecutive Crystal Globe last year.
D’Artois attributes his success last season to a combination of intense training and focus. He also decided to alter his competition runs, stepping back slightly into tricks he is confident and comfortable performing.
“This past season I toned it back a bit so I could perform a run I could do really, really well all the time. I backed off a bit, which allowed me to push other aspects of my run; things like amplitude definitely play a part in our judging scores,” d’Artois says.
Sharpe says learning how to build strength in the gym has certainly helped her rise to the top of the field. “When I joined the Canadian National Team, I changed how I train in the gym — going more often and training harder. I think physical strength had more of a direct impact on how I ski than I realized,” Sharpe says.
One might assume a competitive skier or snowboarder living in Whistler would be riding Whistler Blackcomb’s slopes almost daily, but that’s far from the truth. Canada’s national team athletes are constantly travelling between competitions and the world’s best halfpipes for on-snow training.
When d’Artois is at home in Whistler, his focus is on maintaining fitness. His personal trainer is in Whistler, and Whistler’s Back in Action provides his physiotherapy. He also takes part in trampoline training with his ski coach, who lives nearby in Squamish.
“We train in Whistler at the gym (the Canadian Sport Institute at the Whistler Athletes’ Centre) and combine other activities like yoga, swimming, hiking, and biking,” says d’Artois.
Managing a career as an athlete is also easier in a place where many people understand the ins and outs of that lifestyle. “Just being in a community where there are a lot of like-minded people, you can collaborate easily and make friends. Every single day you can do something to help you in your career as a skier in Whistler,” d’Artois says.
Sharpe says she doesn’t mind regularly travelling between Whistler and Vancouver. During the summer, she keeps fit by mountain biking, swimming in Whistler’s lakes and other cross-training activities. However, in the winter, it’s all about hitting the gym.
“Whistler has a phenomenal training set-up. The Olympic legacy buildings provide a lot for athletes. The fitness centre is a huge asset to our sport as well as many others. Being able to ski all day, go for an afternoon workout, and then hit the Scandinave Spa for some rest and relaxation — it doesn’t get much better than that!” Sharpe says.
Unfortunately, though, one thing Whistler does not have is a competition-sized halfpipe for training. Olympic halfpipes (a.k.a. superpipes) are 22 feet deep, and Canada’s best is currently located in Calgary’s WinSport (Winter Sports Institute) Canada Olympic Park. Whistler Blackcomb’s halfpipe isn’t large enough to meet a professional competitor’s needs.
“On a good day, Whistler’s halfpipe is, maybe, 16 feet tall and very wide,” explains Sharpe. “It is always open and very fun to play around in, but it is not up to par for any real training.”
“We have to travel to ski,” echoes d’Artois. “Most of our halfpipe training involves flying somewhere else to do it, whether that’s California in the spring, New Zealand in the fall, or Europe in the fall.”
So, what does the future hold for d’Artois and Sharpe?
“For the next three years, it’s training and working my way towards the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022. Then, from a career standpoint, [I will] probably retire from halfpipe skiing and move more into backcountry skiing,” d’Artois says.
Sharpe plans to stay on the competition circuit until 2022 and not let her professional life take the joy out of skiing.
“Right now, I’m just enjoying being a part of such a unique sport. I am pushing toward the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics but keeping in mind to always have fun and enjoy the process!” she says.