Halfpipe to glory

Cassie Sharpe continues to climb world rankings in freestyle skiing

Cassie Sharpe

After soaring higher than any other female halfpipe athlete has ever gone before, the sky is definitely the limit for Cassie Sharpe.

“For sure it was my best ever season,” said the 22-year-old athlete who calls Comox home. “Every contest I did I made finals. No matter my placement I was into the second round. Getting that consistency, that was good.”

That was good, but there was better.

“Winning the SFR World (Cup) tour finals was amazing,” she said. That middle podium appearance at Tignes, France in March (against a field that included Olympic and X Games medallists) was Sharpe’s first World Cup win.

A left cork 9 (that no other woman was doing) and a record-breaking left flair – “The biggest inverted trick ever done by a woman!” she notes – were keys to the gold.

Trennon Paynter, head coach of the Canadian freestyle halfpipe team, described Sharpe’s winning run as “mind blowing. She made history for the sport. Everyone was so impressed by it. It was great to be a part of it and see her first major victory.”

In January, participating in her first-ever FIS Freestyle Ski World Championships, Sharpe won silver in Kreischberg, Austria. And did so in dramatic fashion on her third, and the final, run of the comp. Her results have Sharpe feeling confident she will be moving up from the national B Group to the A Group this coming season. Paynter said team selections were made Monday morning, with the announcement expected later this week.

Sharpe’s coach offered “glowing reviews in all aspects” of her and her first season with the national team.

“She adopted to the new life as a national team athlete really well. It can be a pretty overwhelming thing for a lot of people in many ways. We have some pretty rigorous demands on the athlete at this level. She accepted that, rose to the occasion and really impressed us with not only her skiing and competition results, but just her whole attitude and approach to it.”

Paynter was extremely pleased with Sharpe’s results. “If we just look at the numbers we really couldn’t be happier. She exceeded everyone’s expectations. Some really impressive numbers for someone coming into some of those bigger events. She hadn’t even had starts in events like this before. For her to just come in like that and put those kind of performances down against the world’s best was really great to see.”

The only down side of Sharpe’s season came in April at the World Ski and Snowboard Festival at Whistler Blackcomb. It was the last comp of the season and she had been looking forward to showing some new tricks to friends and family at her home mountain. But she never made it to the halfpipe due to an injury suffered in slopestyle.

“I did a lot of slopestyle events last year, and I kind of missed them. I got an invite to this one and thought, ‘Whatever, like, you’re comfortable, you can do this.’”

But she ended up rather uncomfortable when she suffered a hairline fracture of her L2 (second lumbar vertebra).

“It’s not serious. Just enough to be annoying and pretty painful. All the muscles are kind of spasming and getting really mad about it. It’s no big deal. But maybe this pipe jock should just stick to the pipe now!” she laughed.

Growing up close to Mount Washington Alpine Resort, where her father Don is the general manager, both Sharpe and her brother Darcy (a member of the Canadian national snowboard team) went to snow school and developed their skills from an early age.

The support of her family and friends means a lot to the young freestyler.

“Everybody’s so good,” she said. “When I came back from France from World Cup finals a big group of people were waiting for me with balloons. They all cheered when I walked in.

“My parents had a limo for me, it was awesome.”

Along with that support, Sharpe attributes her success to two other main factors.

“I’m competitive by nature. I like to push myself and push others to be the best you can be. As well, I LOVE skiing. I genuinely love everything about it. Even if I wasn’t competing I’d still be out skiing.”

Paynter says Sharpe’s future is bright indeed.

“We never want to put too many predictions or expectations on athletes. She’s got a long way to go, and we’re just seeing the start of what she’s capable of both technically and in terms of results.

“She has a lot of really exceptional talent,” Paynter said, adding that while Sharpe is very good at pushing herself technically, the coaching staff worked with her to develop her basics, which helped her become more consistent. “As she strengthens her base it’s going to help her hit those high-end technical skills much easier. We started to really see it pay off later in the season.”

Making his job easier, Paynter says Sharpe “is a great athlete to work with. We threw some pretty big challenges at her. We ask a significant commitment and she did a great job of learning that quickly, and understanding and committing to it.”

With training for the 2015 season just weeks away, Sharpe is looking to hit new heights in the years ahead.

“I for sure want to get to X Games, maybe for next year. Then for sure Olympics. That’s definitely high in my sights to get there as well.”

And getting there is half the fun.

“It’s really just having fun and doing all the contests and being with the people that I love and share the same passion with. It’s a good life.”

 

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