British Columbia

Canadian women's freestyle skiing inspires young B.C. athletes as sport soars to new heights

The sport has soared to a new level of skill at this year's Winter Games, says a B.C. ski coach, and funding and support have also increased in recent years, inspiring other women and young girls in the sport.

Funding and support needed to build the sport have also increased drastically in recent years

Zoë Henderson, 12, pictured at a competition at Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops in B.C.'s Interior, in mid-February. Freestyle skiing has soared to a whole new level of skill at this year's Olympic Games, inspiring young B.C. women in the sport. (Neil Henderson)

Athletes from all over Canada have triumphed in the 2022 Winter Olympics, winning 24 medals and counting for the country. 

But if there's one sport that's looking stronger than ever, it's women's freestyle skiing.

Danika Mazur, a ski coach with B.C. Freestyle, says the sport has soared to a new level of skill at this year's Winter Games. 

This has meant a great deal for other women and young girls in freestyle skiing, she said, since the funding and support needed to build the sport have also increased drastically in recent years.

"When we see a part of ourselves in these athletes or a part of our own stories within their story, it really shows us that we have that potential too," Mazur told CBC. 

Mazur is also a lead coordinator for Girlstylerz in Whistler, B.C., a program that focuses on building and empowering young female athletes in the sport. She says the program is seeing a lot of amazing athletes coming out of it, more than ever before.

Girlstylerz is a program that focuses on building and empowering young female athletes in the sport. For young athletes, the sport also creates a sense of community. (Girlstylerz/Freestyle B.C.)

"Giving them that space where they do feel included and part of the team and well-supported with their coaches and their teammates really helps them to develop those skills that they need," she said.

For 12-year-old Zoë Henderson, the sport means more to her than just showing off her 360's in competitions. It also gives her a sense of community and connects her with other young athletes with similar goals, she said.

Olympians inspire young athletes

Zoë, who trains with Girlstylerz in moguls, slopestyle and big air, says watching the Olympics has encouraged her in her own competitions and training.

"It's super cool to watch them compete and especially seeing some of their back stories or if they've recovered from an injury … It inspires me a lot."

Zoë says the athlete she looks up to the most is Sarah Burke, the world's first female professional freeskier.

Before her tragic death in 2012, Burke extensively lobbied efforts that made it possible for both women's halfpipe and slopestyle to become Olympic events.

Mazur says it's important for young athletes to see representation in the sport to inspire them in their own life. 

She adds that it's important to teach them to see not only the athletes' accomplishments at the games, but also their challenges. 

"That's part of the journey too. And I think sometimes we miss that on the highlights, all of the everyday failures and challenges that go into making it to those huge achievements and successes."

Freestyle skiing also helps Zoë Henderson connect with other young athletes, she said. One of her goals is to keep improving her skills in the sport. (Neil Henderson)

As for Zoë, her main goal is to get into the Freestyle Junior Nationals and keep improving her skills.

"My future lifetime goal isn't to get into the Olympics, but if I was offered, I would obviously take that," she said.

Mazur says thanks to the support freestyle skiing is seeing at national and local levels, the future is bright for young athletes interested in the sport. 

"At the next Olympics in 2026, we're going to probably see some of the girls who came through Girlstylerz programs representing Canada, and that's what it's all about."

With files from Zack Smart

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