Elite Amateur Sport Skiing

Freestyle skier Matthew Lepine switches from summer to winter for world juniors in New Zealand

By Mark Colley

Matthew Lepine has competed all across Canada. He’s taken on ski hills in Quebec and New Brunswick, and swung out west to Calgary and Yukon.

But he’s never been as far from home as he is now.

For the next six weeks, Lepine will call Aotearoa, New Zealand home. That’s where he’s competing in the FIS Freestyle Junior World Ski Championships from Aug. 25 to Sept. 8 on Canada’s slopestyle and big air team.

After the competition, he’s staying in New Zealand for extra training with his Canadian teammates.

The event is for athletes aged 15 to 18. At 15 years old, Lepine will be one of the youngest on the hill — but that’s not what he’s nervous about.

Instead, he’s anxious about competing so far from home for the first time.

“It’s still scary to think about that — that I’m going to be competing in a different country. It’s pretty insane,” Lepine highlights. “It’s so different. Even with the driving rules … It’s more of just like a whole new environment that I’m going to be living in for six weeks.”

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Competing against older athletes is a regular occurrence for Lepine. In March 2022, he was the youngest in the field at the Nor-Am Cup in Stoneham, Que. At the Canada Winter Games in P.E.I. last February, he was the youngest again — celebrating his 15th birthday on the hill and finishing ninth of 24 in slopestyle.

Lepine also finished fifth in big air at the Games. He said the results showed he was “capable of competing with higher-skilled athletes.”

Beyond the anxiety of competing halfway across the world, another challenge will be the flip in seasons. While Canadians are hitting the beaches, New Zealanders are in the middle of winter — perfect conditions for skiing, but a stark contrast to Lepine’s environment over the last few months.

Matthew Lepine summertime training. Photo provided

To prepare, Lepine spent two days with Team Quebec at Maximise in Ste-Agathe. Que. The summer jumping facilities there include a plastic dry slope and landing airbag, allowing Lepine to practice his jumps.

But there’s no replacing real snow.

“We can still practice all our tricks, (but) only jump wise — we can’t really train any of our rails,” explains the Fortune Freestyle product.

Lepine is expecting the snow quality in New Zealand to be different than it is in Canada. He said some snow is choppy — “almost like the whole mountain has hail on it” — while some snow is almost like ice.

“You just need to mentally be like, ‘OK, I need to be more cautious landing because of whatever.’ The snow’s super loose and there’s more chance of falling,” he notes.

Lepine will have 10 days in New Zealand before the competition starts to get back in the groove of skiing on snow. He’s also hoping to make some time to skateboard.

“I’ve heard they have some really sick skate parks out there, so that’s gonna be fun,” he signals. “A vast majority of skiers skateboard, so it’s a big thing to do [together] when you’re not skiing.”

Lepine’s ultimate goal is to make finals, although he also has a list of tricks he wants to land. There’s some bigger tricks he learned last winter that he wants to execute in competition — and some others that he just wants to try.

“The first competition of the year is always a couple extra little butterflies going into it, but I think if I just stay composed and confident in my skiing, I think I’ll do pretty good,” Lepine says.

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