The Slopestyle Hub: Why Ontario Keeps Producing Top Young Riders

words :: Allison Kennedy Davies

Let’s face it, everyone likes to cheer on the home team. As Canadians, we’ve been blessed with a long lineup of slopestyle snowboard athletes to cheer for. Sure, you’ve heard of Mark McMorris and Sébastien Toutant but have you taken the time to look closer at the current lineup of National riders? Or those on deck to climb that same ladder? 

I’ve been shooting X Games the last few winters in Aspen, and standing at the base of the course as McMorris landed his gold medal slopestyle run, I started to realize what a small world snowboarding is. A small, flipping fantastic world—one where the riders genuinely want to see their buddy land their run, even if it costs them a shot at a medal.

 

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The more I watched, listened and read, the more I realized just how many athletes in Canadian snowboarding have deep roots right here in Ontario. 

 

“There’s a high-speed mentality here … Time moves so fast here that a lot of people are in tune with the fact that they are on the clock from opening day. You really knuckle down every run and don’t want to waste it.”

 

There’s a veritable pipeline of talent coming out of the region and we decided to take a closer look at why. With one of the shortest seasons (not to mention some of the shortest runs), there’s something undeniable happening here that’s producing riders willing to push their limits and compete against the best.

 

The Coaches’ Perspective

We asked Canada Snowboard Slopestyle Coach Elliot Catton for his take on the talent coming out of Ontario. “Blue Mountain, Mount St. Louis and the surrounding resorts have produced pro snowboarders for many years,” explains Catton. “When guys like Mikey [Ciccarelli] and Tyler [Nicholson] were coming up, there were already many examples of riders who had made it on the world stage. That helps create a belief effect for young snowboarders with big dreams.” 

In an “if you build it they will come” refrain, Catton praises local park builders too. “In my 20-plus years of snowboarding, Blue Mountain and Mount St. Louis always had the best parks which attracted the best riders in the province.” Catton also thinks Ontario’s less-than-perfect conditions actually build resilience. “Those that truly love to snowboard will ride in any conditions and that’s part of what it takes to make it,” says Catton. “Ontario winters throw everything at you: wind, ice, rain, freezing temps. So, in many ways that creates a great training environment to be able to handle adversity in competition.” 

Add an epic community vibe and coaching programs and Ontario snowboarding has something special going on. “Snowboarding has a real sense of community, so even when you’re competing against someone, you’re still cheering them on,” explains Catton. “That community vibe combined with the top parks attracting the best riders creates a very progressive environment. There are now many coaching programs in Ontario that help to foster that environment too.” 

One coaching program comes up regularly when talking about Ontario talent. The Senders, founded by New Zealander turned Wasaga Beacher Sam Marcotte, is an advanced program operating out of Mount St. Louis and Blue Mountain Resort that has helped launch the careers of Canada Snowboard national team members Mikey Ciccarelli and Tyler Nicholson as well as Next Gen athlete William Buffey and Next Gen Development athlete Liam Brearley.

 

Sommer Gendron, sending. Photo: Tyler Ashbee

Like Catton, Marcotte thinks the belief that you can make it builds as more Ontario riders succeed. “Many of the coaches we have now were once riders on our program themselves,” explains Marcotte. “The riders that have made it from here have also helped to inspire others to believe they can make it too. That’s where everything starts really—you need those dreams and visions in your head to push through anything in your way and make it happen.” 

And what some might see as a disadvantage of Ontario terrain, Marcotte sees as a recipe for success. “There’s a high-speed mentality here,” Marcotte says about the short season and the short park runs. “Time moves so fast here that a lot of people are in tune with the fact that they are on the clock from opening day. You really knuckle down every run and don’t want to waste it.  That’s crucial in a progression-based sport like freestyle snowboarding.” 

Both Marcotte and Catton agree on the traits shared by successful riders: Commitment, passion, drive and parental support of course. 

“Commitment, drive and tenacity are the most important factors,” says Marcotte. “The riders who usually end up making it are usually the ones who have had to go through some sort of major adversity in their home life, or had some unusual obstacles in their way to even just to be able to snowboard. Freestyle snowboarding isn’t for the mentally and physically soft. It’s hard out here and you will get injured. It takes some grit to constantly walk the line at the limits required for progression and then come back from an injury mentally stronger than before.” 

“They are all driven by passion,” echoes Catton. “They all love to snowboard and that love has pushed them to get up after falling and try again and again and again.” 

Meet the riders

Sommer Gendron

Sommer, left, enjoying the fruits of her labour. Photo: Tyler Ashbee

Canada Snowboard Next Gen Slopestyle Team Member 

Home club in Ontario: Beaver Valley Ski Club—I learned how to snowboard there and later rode at Mount St. Louis Moonstone with a local team.

How did you get started in the sport? After my first lesson, I fell in love with the feeling of riding and soon after I started in an all-girls group to learn how to ride park at Beaver Valley.

Best and worst things about snowboarding in Ontario: I always loved snowboarding in Ontario. There is terrain for all levels so it’s a great place to start and work your way up.

Why do you think Ontario is producing some great slopestyle riders?
Mount St. Louis has a good park for slopestyle snowboarders. They have a park chair so you get fast laps and can watch everyone from it.

Advice to up and coming riders: I would say work hard, stay humble and have a lot fun doing it. 

Goals for 2019/20: There’s been quite a bit of focus on contests so one of my goals is to organize a girls’ snowboarding trip just for fun at the end of the season.

 

William Buffey

Photo: Tyler Ashbee

Canada Snowboard Next Gen Slopestyle Team Member 

Home club in Ontario: Mount St. Louis Moonstone.

How did you get started in the sport? I started skateboarding when I was two and when I was four my grandpa told my mom I should try snowboarding. My parents put me on a snowboard and I just loved it.

Best and worst things about snowboarding in Ontario: The best thing is you get really quick laps. The worst thing is it tends to be really icy sometimes.

 

Probably pretty icy on this city booter—but Buffey sends with no regard. Photo: Tyler Ashbee

 

Why do you think Ontario is producing some great Slopestyle riders? I think Ontario is producing great slopestyle athletes because they have programs like The Senders.

Advice to up and coming riders: Always have fun with what you’re doing because it’s easier to learn stuff when your super stoked and happy.

Goals for 2019/20? My goal for this upcoming season is to get into higher-level comps and get good results at the Youth Olympics and World Cups.

 

Mikey Ciccarelli

Photo: Allison Kennedy Davies

Canada Snowboard National Slopestyle/Big Air Team Member

Home Club in Ontario: The Georgian Peaks Club.

How did you get started in the sport? My whole family skied and I was a skier until age seven. I also watched the snowboarders on the mountain and thought it was so cool I begged my parents to get me a snowboard.

Best and worst things about snowboarding in Ontario: The best thing is the repetition. We have small hills with good parks which equals a lot of laps in a day. The worst thing is dealing with the mid-winter rain/ice conditions.

 

Sending it on the big stage of X-Games Aspen. Photo: Allison Kennedy Davies

 

Why do you think Ontario is producing some great slopestyle riders? I think the snowboard programs we have are key. Tyler Nicholson and I grew up riding with Simple Snowboarding (now known as The Senders) which was a huge help in our success. 

Advice to up and coming riders: Always remember to have fun and surround yourself with a good crew. 

Goals for 2019/20? To be in the top five on World Snowboard Points List for Slopestyle by the end of the year.

 

Liam Brearley

Young, but focused. Photo: Youtube

Canada Snowboard
Next Gen Slopestyle
Development Team Member 

Home club in Ontario: The Senders.

How did you get started in the sport: My parents started me on skis when I was very young, and as I got older I always wanted to try snowboarding. Finally, my grandparents bought me my first snowboard on my seventh birthday. 

Best and worst things about snowboarding in Ontario: The best part is the fast chairlift laps and lots of runs. The worst part is that there are no other parts of the mountain to explore and play around on.

Photo: The Senders

Why do you think Ontario is producing some great slopestyle riders? We do a ton of training in Ontario and because it’s so fast-paced, it is easier to learn different and new tricks. 

Advice to up and coming riders: I would tell them that they shouldn’t take what they have for granted and to make the most of what you have. 

Goal for 2019/20: To learn as many new tricks as I can and get everything locked in and super consistent. Also, to compete and travel a bit.

 

Jasmine Baird

Photo: Chris Witwicki

Canada Snowboard National
Slopestyle/Big Air Team Member 

Home Club in Ontario: Beaver Valley Ski Club (BVSC), Mount St. Louis Moonstone.

How did you get started in the sport? My family owns a ski chalet at the bottom of BVSC so I grew up learning to ride on winter weekends.

Best and worst things about snowboarding in Ontario: The best part is that the laps are pretty fast and the boarder community is sick. Worst parts are the ice and freezing cold weather.

Why do you think Ontario is producing some great slopestyle riders? With the fast laps, you can get like 70 hits a day and the parks are pretty short so everyone’s always lapping together and getting competitive in a fun way. That leads to entering contests.

Style for miles. Photo: Chris Witwicki

Advice to up and coming riders: Snowboarding can really let you push yourself out of your comfort zone which is something I’ve always loved about it. There’s so much opportunity and so many experiences—just remember to have fun, dream big and go big.

Goal for 2019/20: Ultimately my goal is to compete in X Games and the 2022 Olympics for slopestyle and big air so this year I’m planning on doing some bigger events like the Burton US Open, Air + Style, Laax Open and a couple of world cup events. 

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