High Flyers - Athletes Keltie Hansen & Simon d’Artois

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The Squamish Airhouse is rarely this quiet.

It’s just after noon on a mid-November Wednesday and the space that is usually jammed with bouncing kids and high-flying teens is nearly empty and almost silent, except for the squeaking springs and whooshing momentum of two of Canada’s best halfpipe skiers honing their craft.

Whistler local Simon d’Artois and Squamish’s Keltie Hansen are throwing down their best tricks under the watchful eye of National Team head coach Trennon Paynter. At first glance the session seems light hearted and fun, but there is intensity simmering in the athletes’ movements. With the first competition of the 2017-18 North American World Cup season less than two weeks away, both Keltie and Simon are throwing down hard. It is, after all, an Olympic year.

“The Olympics makes it competitive,” explains Keltie, who represented Canada in the first ever Olympic halfpipe ski competition at the 2014 Games in Sochi. “Our team has so many good athletes so you have to be a podium competitor to go. As well, the freestyle disciplines – moguls, ski jumping, slope, even ski cross – we all have to jostle for a certain number of spots. So it makes it a bit stressful but if you ski your best you will get to go.”

In 2014, Keltie battled back from a knee injury to compete in the Sochi Olympics. “I skied in pain a lot but I got to experience things I might never experience again. I think the Olympics chews everyone up a little bit. There are highs and lows no matter how well you do, and there is new stress and pressure. Some respond better than others but you don’t get to the Olympics without being able to handle a bit of pressure.”

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Simon spent the Sochi Olympics in a hotel in Germany, an alternate waiting in the wings if needed. His teammates stayed healthy, competed and he never made it onto Russian snow.  A year later he won X-Games gold and has been working hard in hopes of cracking the big show this time around. Some solid contest results earlier this season are making his chances look good.

“There aren’t too many points in your life where you get an opportunity to do something on this level,” he says. “Making the most of that opportunity is important to me. I’m training as hard as I can to be the best I can. It’s once in a lifetime.”

Chance of a lifetime or not, boosting 20 feet of air out of a 22-foot Superpipe is no joke– you’re floating four stories above the pipe bottom and mistakes can be costly. For athletes like Keltie and Simon, training on the trampoline is an essential part of competing.

“To be able to train the tricks somewhere safe really boosts your confidence at a competition,” Simon explains. “Then you can focus on learning how to take off and land on that particular pipe, you already know the tricks.”

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Before she skied competitively Keltie came from a gymnastics background. She remembers being a kid jumping on a trampoline with her older brother. “He told me he would give me fifteen dollars for candy if I did a front flip,” she laughs. “I remember jumping off the balcony onto it too. The value of trampolines is huge for developing your skill and passion.”

Interestingly, halfpipe skiing was an afterthought for Keltie. At age 15 she was competing in mogul skiing and her first NorAm championships, held in the US, there happened to have a halfpipe comp the next day. “It was Simon Dumont’s North American Open and I thought, ‘ooohh, I can do that,’ so I went in. I didn’t really even know what it was but I won. I thought it was just for fun, I left without my prize money.”

Eventually the organizers tracked down Keltie’s parents and sent her the cheque for $2000. “After that my parents let me switch. I went to the X-Games the next winter.”

Growing up in Whistler, Simon has been skiing “since before I could walk, I guess.” By age 12 he was on the Whistler Blackcomb freestyle team and skiing the park and pipe. “That really helped get me on the path I’m on,” he says. “The coaches were local skiing legends and a lot of them are still involved in my life today.”

Like Keltie, Simon found he was a natural for competitions and saw contests as the path to live the pro skiing life of his dreams–filming for ski movies, skiing pow and shooting ads for his sponsors. “Right now is the hard work phase, I’m still building my abilities and I have a lot to work on. I just want to train hard and practice so I don’t have to think about what I’m doing on comp day. I can just show up and have fun.”

Keltie faces a few extra challenges on competition day, thanks to the rule makers at FIS (International Federation du Ski, the European-based governing body of Olympic skiing). While ten men will make the cut to ski in the final round of a comp, FIS had previously only allowed six women to compete in the finals. With a high level of competition, this made it really difficult to crack into the medal round.

“It was confusing, that rule,” Keltie says. “We get more girls participating but there was also a feeling like ‘I’m never going to make finals.’ My teammate Roz(Groenewoud) has been working really hard to help make changes and it’s been a slow process, there was a bit of a disconnect. But for this season it’s being decided at each individual event whether 6 or 8 girls will advance to the finals. It’s a small improvement but we’ll take it!”

Women fighting for their place in the pipe is nothing new. Both Keltie and Roz skied with Canadian legend Sarah Burke, whose name is stencilled across one of the Airhouse trampolines as inspiration to go big and dream bigger. Burke was instrumental in getting female athletes their own ski competitions and in getting halfpipe skiing, for anyone, into the Olympics.

“It’s hard to put into words how much Sarah did for our sport,” Keltie says. “She pushed on every stage and looked out for everyone on the tour. She was there to support every single girl. I don’t know if there will ever be someone like her again. Our sport is still so new, we are used to competing as individuals and even though we ski for our countries now, we are still there just cheering on our friends. A lot of that came from Sarah. No matter who you are or where you come from, people are stoked when you lay down a gnarly run.”

With the Oympics just weeks away, Simon and Keltie are well into their competition season. Check up on the race to the Games at the Freestyle Canada site  or follow @simondartois and @keltieh on Instagram.

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About the Author:

Feet moved to Whistler with his family at age 12 to live the dream. After time on the Island at University of Victoria, Feet returned home to the mountains where he co-directed and produced the seminal Canadian ski film Parental Advisory Vol 1. Feet also makes short horror films for fun, hosts many Whistler events, writes a weekly movie column, freelances for numerous top outdoor mags, and has been the editor of Mountain Life – Coast Mountains since it’s inception in 2006. He and his family now call Squamish, BC home.

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