EDITOR’S NOTE: Relive the action from the men’s big air snowboarding final at Pyeongchang 2018 on Wednesday beginning at 9 a.m. ET in our latest instalment of Rewind Wednesday..
Two years ago, as Canadian snowboarder Sébastien Toutant was throwing down his biggest tricks to capture gold in the inaugural Olympic big air competition in Pyeongchang, South Korea — halfway around the world — two teenage snowboarders pulled into a Tim Hortons near the Quebec-Vermont border to watch the spectacle on their cell phones.
“We needed the WiFi,” laughs Nic Laframboise, now 20 and a member of Canada Snowboard’s national team.
Watching his idol “Seb Toots” that day, alongside friend and fellow Canadian rider Frank Jobin, made him realize his own Olympic dream was in sight.
Perhaps as Canadian as a road-trip stop at Tim Hortons is the tradition of dominance in slopestyle and big air snowboarding in this country.
It could be Mark McMorris, the most decorated snowboarder in the history of the Winter X Games (along with two Olympic medals amid a litany of career-threatening injuries), or Max Parrot, the 2018 Olympic slopestyle silver medallist who beat cancer and came back to win big air at X Games this past February, or the stylish Toutant, another past X Games champion, who made history as the inaugural Olympic big air winner.
WATCH | Seb Toutant claims inaugural Olympic big air gold:
On the women’s side, Laurie Blouin is a world champion, to go along with silver at the Olympics and X Games.
They’ve got the goods — the tricks, the flair, the cred — and they’re all still near the top of their game. So how does the next generation of riders crack the Canadian team?
Canada Snowboard’s slopestyle head coach Elliot Catton says given how rich in talent the program is, it’s tough.
“There’s no easy way to put it,” he said this week from his home in Squamish, B.C. “We have some of the best in the world, just the standards of making the team are higher than in other disciplines or another sport.
“But it just comes down to the skills they can acquire, the tricks they can do and then being able to do those when it counts — performance on-demand in competitions. That’s what it takes in any sport to be up at the top, but in particular to this team.”
The next generation
Jasmine Baird wants to be on that Canadian team for Beijing 2022, but she has some work to do.
The 21-year-old national team member, originally from Mississauga, Ont., has been sidelined since last August after she tore the ACL in her left knee in Cardrona, New Zealand.
“For about the last 10 years, my goal has been to get to the 2022 Olympics,” she said. “Being put on the sideline has definitely been a struggle mentally for me because everyone else I’ll be competing against has been progressing these past 12 months, but I haven’t.”
Since reconstructive surgery, she’s been rehabbing religiously, working on her strength, mobility and flexibility until she can get back on snow.
Before her injury, she was making noise on the international stage with her first World Cup podium in January 2019 (third in slopestyle at Seiser Alm, Italy) and as the top Canadian in her world championship debut in Park City, Utah (sixth in slopestyle, ahead of Olympians Brooke Voigt and Blouin).
She remembers watching the Pyeongchang big air finals and comparing her skills to what was being put down at the Olympics.
“Some of them I’d be like ‘oh, I can do that trick’ so it was a good feeling and confirmation that I was on the right path,” she said. “It definitely made me feel confident about where I was at with my progression and my skills looking at 2022.”
She says her biggest trick is a cab double 900, which is a switch double underflip. She learned it last season before getting injured and kindly walked this author through the move.
Just to put in context: the biggest trick in Pyeongchang was a 1080, done by gold medallist Anna Gasser of Austria. So to be in the mix with the top women in the world in big air, Baird hopes to add a 10 to her repertoire this season.
Laframboise, or “The Flying Raspberry” as he’s called, put his name in the conversation for Beijing 2022 after finishing second overall in the World Cup big air points standings, which included his first victory in Modena, Italy.
“I did not expect it,” he said from his home in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. “I knew I was capable of it, but being capable and actually doing it is two different things.”
He said the biggest lessons he learned from his first full season on the senior team are performing under pressure and working on his slopestyle game.
Coach Catton says that’s something the younger riders learn as they grow in their careers.
Another bonus for Laframboise this season was getting to pick the brains of champions like Toutant and Parrot, who he got to room with in Laax, Switzerland, and at the US Open in Vail, Colo., respectively.
“Every time I snowboard with Seb it’s super fun. I think he has a great way of seeing snowboarding and making it fun. I like that attitude. And with Max, he’s really focused and in the zone. I got to ask him about how he chills out before contests.”
Every little edge counts on the road to Beijing, especially with the crop of veteran names and those coming up alongside Laframboise, like three-time Youth Olympic Games medallist Liam Brearly and double world junior medallist Will Buffey, among others.
Progression between Olympics
Beijing 2022 is less than two years away and this should be the year when riders start testing out new tricks and pushing the standards from snowboarding’s past.
“I think the sport is constantly evolving and progressing. That’s kind of the nature of it,” Catton said. “Big tricks are great, but within snowboarding there’s different grabs and spinning on a different axis that can help make things unique. So it’s not just another 180 or another flip that’s going to be the next big thing. There’s a creative aspect.”
Many of the top men on tour do 1620s and 1800s, while the top women are doing 1080s and some are doing 1260s.
One other thing the riders, coaches and fans are looking forward to in Beijing is the venue for big air. The brand-new Shougang Park permanent big air ramp, located on the western outskirts of China’s capital city, was on display at the Air & Style event in early Dec. 2019.
As for which countries will dominate come Beijing 2022, in terms of big air and slopestyle, especially on the men’s side, it’s Canada, says Craig McMorris. The professional snowboarder has watched the sport over the past two Olympic Winter Games in his role as CBC’s colour commentator.
“I feel like qualifying for the Olympics on Team Canada is harder almost than going to the Olympics itself. At the Olympics, you get one day. If you’re on, you’re on. But the qualification to even get on to Team Canada is all season, every season. I think that’s one of the hardest things to do in sports, to be honest.”
For the women in big air, McMorris says it’s early, but watch out for the Japanese.
“They have three or four riders right now doing insane tricks and when they get a little more consistent, it’s not outlandish to say they’d sweep the podium.”
Relive the action from the dramatic final beginning on Wednesday at 9 a.m. ET on CBC and CBCSports.ca.