We are less than a year and a half to the start of PyeongChang 2018.

That makes the winter sport season about to begin the last full one before the Olympic window is upon us – which means Olympic qualification events and test events are all on the calendar. So as maple leaves change colour across the country, let’s check out some of the athletes who will be wearing the maple leaf this winter as they set their sights on South Korea.

In our third installment, we head to the hills for alpine skiing, freestyle skiing and snowboard. For all three sports, the qualification window in which to earn points towards Olympic eligibility has already opened. That means this season and next will be all about the athletes setting themselves up for selection when the final team sizes become known in January 2018.

Alpine Skiing

Dustin Cook competes in a super-G race in 2015

Dustin Cook competes in a super-G race in 2015

Who to Watch

The Canadian alpine ski team is coming off a World Cup season in which it had six podium finishes. However, three of those came from Larisa Yurkiw, who decided to retire after her career year. Still, there is plenty of reason for optimism from the group of veterans and up-and-comers that will hit the World Cup circuit when it kicks off this coming weekend.

Erik Guay led the Canadian men’s team last season with six top-10 performances, including a third place finish in the downhill at the World Cup Finals in St. Moritz, the same venue that will host the biennial world championships in February. Guay was also the top Canadian in both the downhill and super-G at the Olympic test event last February in Jeongseon, although he finished well back of the podium. Excited to be on the comeback trail is Dustin Cook. The 2015 world silver medallist in the super-G tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee while training for last season’s World Cup opener, taking him out of the entire campaign. Hoping for a return to form is 11-time World Cup medallist Manuel Osborne-Paradis. Coming off a season in which he recorded just two top-10 finishes, he made a major equipment change and will be racing on new skis this season.

Erin Mielzynski (left) ahead of her Swedish opponent in the mixed team event at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

Erin Mielzynski (left) ahead of her Swedish opponent in the mixed team event at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. (AP/John Locher)

The men’s technical team features young talent looking to break out in the last season prior to PyeongChang 2018. Erik Read, son of Crazy Canuck Ken Read, is qualified to start in all World Cup races this season after winning the 2015-16 NorAm Cup overall title. Phil Brown and Trevor Philp both contributed to Canada’s 2015 world silver medal in the team event, which will make its Olympic debut in 2018. Also part of that team silver were Erin Mielzynski and Candace Crawford. Slalom specialist Mielzynski just missed her third career World Cup podium last season with a fourth place finish in Aspen. At 22, Crawford is still on the rise after posting her first top 10 finish ever on the World Cup last season. The leader of the women’s team is expected to be Marie-Michèle Gagnon, who won two World Cup medals last February, gold in the combined in Andorra and bronze in the slalom in Crans Montana. Looking to make her mark on the team is Valérie Grenier. At 19, she won gold in the downhill and silver in the super-G at the 2016 world junior championships after taking bronze in the giant slalom in 2015.

Marie-Michele Gagnon (in yellow) celebrates after winning the women's alpine combined in Andorra on February 28, 2016.

Marie-Michele Gagnon (in yellow) celebrates after winning the women’s alpine combined in Andorra on February 28, 2016.

What to Watch

FIS Alpine Ski World Cup – November 23-27, 2016 – Lake Louise, Alberta

  • The season opener for the men’s speed events (downhill and super-G)

FIS Alpine Ski World Cup – November 29-December 4, 2017 – Lake Louise, Alberta

  • The season opener for the women’s speed events (downhill and super-G)

FIS Far East Cup – January 16-18, 2017 – Yongpyong, South Korea

  • Test event for slalom and giant slalom at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre

FIS Alpine World Ski Championships – February 6-19, 2017 – St. Moritz, Switzerland

FIS Alpine Ski World Cup – March 2-5, 2017 – Jeongseon, South Korea

  • Test event for women’s downhill and super-G at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre

Freestyle Skiing

Mikaël Kingsbury of Canada competes in the super final at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup Saturday, January 23, 2016 in Val St-Come, Que.

Mikaël Kingsbury of Canada competes in the super final at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup Saturday, January 23, 2016 in Val St-Come, Que.

Who to Watch

We have to wait until December for the World Cup season to begin for Olympic freestyle skiing events. But that just leaves more time for the anticipation to build.

One athlete to watch closely is Mikaël Kingsbury, who’s looking to make even more history. Last season he broke the all-time World Cup record for moguls victories. He enters this season with 33 wins, just five back of the all-time freestyle mark of 38, held by Norwegian acro skier Rune Kristiansen. Kingsbury’s consistency is incomparable, as evidenced by his five straight Crystal Globes, not just in moguls but across all of the freestyle disciplines. It’s no secret that Canada has great depth in moguls. Philippe Marquis finished last season ranked fourth in the World Cup standings while 20-year-old Laurent Dumais recorded his first podium finish. Coming back from injury troubles will be Marc-Antoine Gagnon and Simon Pouliot-Cavanagh, both capable of podium placements.

Justine Dufour-Lapointe in the women's moguls competition at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup on January 23, 2016 in Val St-Come, Que.

Justine Dufour-Lapointe in the women’s moguls competition at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup on January 23, 2016 in Val St-Come, Que.

Of course, the women’s moguls team is just as deep, led by the Dufour-Lapointe sisters. Last season, Chloé and Justine finished 1-2 in the World Cup moguls standings, swapping their spots from the Sochi 2014 podium. Eldest sister Maxime helped them complete a podium sweep in Val St. Come, followed a week later by Andi Naude being the third member of an all-Canadian podium in Calgary. Add in veteran Audrey Robichaud and Canada has multi medal potential at every competition.

The men’s aerials team (dubbed “The Eh Team”) of Travis Gerrits, Olivier Rochon and youngster Lewis Irving is hoping for more results like they had in the first half of last season versus the second half. In early February, all three were ranked in the top 10 in the world. Rochon won a World Cup silver in Deer Valley. Irving was en route to being name FIS Aerials Rookie of the Year with top-10 finishes in three of his four World Cup outings, including one fourth place. But then Rochon needed eye surgery after breaking an orbital bone when his knee hit his face on a bad landing and Irving was pulled from the World Cup circuit to compete on the NorAm circuit where he could focus on development. Gerrits was able to end the season with three straight finals appearances, including a fourth place, but didn’t get quite the start to 2016-17 that he wanted. At a water ramp competition in Switzerland in August, Gerrits crashed on a training jump, suffering a bruised spleen and lung. Unable to fly home for a few weeks, he’s excited to get back to jumping in November.

Olivier Rochon celebrates a second place finish in the men's aerial event during the FIS World Cup freestyle skiing competition Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Deer Valley, Utah. (AP Photo/George Frey)

Olivier Rochon celebrates a second place finish in the men’s aerial event during the FIS World Cup freestyle skiing competition Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Deer Valley, Utah. (AP Photo/George Frey)

Canada won three medals in freeskiing events that made their Olympic debuts at Sochi 2014 and there are high hopes for more. Alex Bellemare has already had success with the Olympic course at the Bokwang Snow Park, winning the slopestyle test event last February, while Olympic champion Dara Howell and Yuki Tsubota finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the women’s event. On any given week, whether at FIS World Cup events or the multitude of pro tour events, no Canadian slopestyler can be counted out. That includes the likes of Olympic bronze medallist Kim Lamarre, Kaya Turski and Alex Beaulieu-Marchand. The halfpipe team is equally formidable. One of the biggest highlights last year was Cassie Sharpe winning X Games gold in Oslo after taking Dew Tour silver. Still relatively new to the international scene, she is surrounded by experienced skiers, including Roz Groenewoud, Keltie Hansen, Olympic silver medallist Mike Riddle, Noah Bowman, and Simon d’Artois, who won X Games gold himself in Aspen in 2015.

Cassie Sharpe after winning X Games superpipe gold in Oslo on February 28, 2016. (Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images)

Cassie Sharpe after winning X Games superpipe gold in Oslo on February 28, 2016. (Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images)

In ski cross, Canada’s consistency across the board resulted in winning the 2015-16 FIS Nations Cup. The gold and silver medallists from Sochi 2014, Marielle Thompson and Kelsey Serwa, swapped spots on the podium at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen. Both also seem to be quite comfortable with the Olympic course, with Serwa winning silver and Thompson placing fourth at the PyeongChang 2018 test event in February. Thompson finished the season ranked second in the World Cup standings. The third woman on Canada’s 2014 Olympic team, Georgia Simmerling, is getting back on skis after winning bronze in track cycling’s team pursuit at Rio 2016. Canada’s leading men, Chris Del Bosco and Brady Leman, finished last season ranked second and third in the World Cup standings. At the X Games in Aspen, Leman took the win while Del Bosco finished third.

Chris Del Bosco (right) flies through the air in Val Thorens France, on December 11, 2015 (Photo: GEPA Pictures for FIS).

Chris Del Bosco (right) flies through the air in Val Thorens France, on December 11, 2015 (Photo: GEPA Pictures for FIS).

What to Watch

FIS Freestyle World Cup – January 21, 2017 – Val St. Come, Quebec

  • Men’s and ladies’ moguls

X Games – January 26-29, 2017 – Aspen, Colorado

  • Men’s and women’s halfpipe, slopestyle, ski cross

FIS Freestyle World Cup – January 28, 2017 – Calgary, Alberta

  • Men’s and ladies’ moguls

FIS Freestyle World Cup – February 9-12, 2017 – Quebec City, Quebec

  • Men’s and ladies’ slopestyle

FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup – February 10-18, 2017 – Bokwang, South Korea

  • Test event for aerials, moguls and halfpipe at the Bokwang Snow Park

FIS Freestyle World Cup – March 4-5, 2017 – Blue Mountain, Ontario

  • Men’s and ladies’ ski cross

FIS Freestyle Ski World Championships – March 6-19, 2017 – Sierra Nevada, Spain

Snowboard

Mark McMorris after winning 2016 X Games Aspen gold in snowboard slopestyle.

Mark McMorris after winning 2016 X Games Aspen gold in snowboard slopestyle.

Who to Watch

One of the most notable changes to the Olympic program for PyeongChang 2018 is the addition of the snowboard big air event, providing a second medal opportunity for some of Canada’s top competitors. That group includes Mark McMorris, who won bronze in the Olympic debut of slopestyle at Sochi 2014 while dealing with a broken rib. This season he’s coming back from a broken femur suffered in a big air crash landing in February. Prior to that, he was a double medallist at the X Games in Aspen, taking slopestyle gold and big air silver. Both times he shared the podium with Canadians. While Sébastien Toutant won slopestyle silver, Max Parrot became the breakout story of the year with his big air gold in Aspen, which was followed by big air silver at the X Games in Oslo. Canada’s no slouch when it comes to the women’s style events, with Spencer O’Brien winning slopestyle gold at the last season’s X Games in Aspen before finishing fourth in big air at the X Games in Oslo.

Max Parrot rises at the FIS snowboard big air World Cup on February 11, 2016 in Boston's Fenway Park.

Max Parrot rises at the FIS snowboard big air World Cup on February 11, 2016 in Boston’s Fenway Park.

The addition of big air means that parallel slalom is no longer on the Olympic program after a one-time appearance at Sochi 2014. So Canada’s alpine snowboarders have just one event to focus on: parallel giant slalom. The best known name on the national team against this year is 2010 Olympic champion Jasey-Jay Anderson. Still going at 41, he’ll be leading a team of boarders who are almost half his age. But he’s not the only returning veteran who’ll head out on the World Cup circuit later this fall. After taking 2015-16 away from the sport, two-time Olympic medallist Dominique Maltais is back with the snowboard cross squad, which also includes Olympians Chris Robanske and Kevin Hill. After winning bronze at Turin 2006 and silver at Sochi 2014, Maltais has her sights set on gold at PyeongChang 2018, which would be her fourth Olympic Games.

Dominique Maltais during snowboard cross competition at Sochi 2014.

Dominique Maltais during snowboard cross competition at Sochi 2014.

There’s also a veteran presence on the halfpipe team, including Olympians Mercedes Nicoll, Katie Tsuyuki and Derek Livingston. Like Maltais, Nicoll is eyeing her fourth straight Olympic appearance.

What to Watch

FIS Snowboard World Cup – November 23-26, 2016 – Alpensia, South Korea

  • Test event for big air at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre

X Games – January 26-29, 2017 – Aspen, Colorado

  • Men’s and women’s slopestyle, snowboard cross, big air, halfpipe

FIS Snowboard World Cup – February 9-12, 2017 – Quebec City, Quebec

  • Men’s and ladies’ big air and slopestyle

FIS Snowboard World Cup – February 12-19, 2017 – Bokwang, South Korea

  • Test event for parallel giant slalom and halfpipe at the Bokwang Snow Park

FIS Snowboard World Championships – March 7-19, 2017 – Sierra Nevada, Spain


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