By Emma Zhao
Matthew Lepine returned home at the end of September from an extended summer vacation – which he spent chasing winter – and the Ottawa freestyle skier didn’t come back empty-handed.
For a little more than a month, the 15-year-old resided in Aotearoa, New Zealand to train for and compete in the FIS Freeski Junior World Championships. On Sept. 4, Lepine earned a silver medal in the men’s big event despite being one of the youngest competitors on the hill.
“It was a great experience all around,” recounts Lepine, who stayed in New Zealand for several weeks to get more time on snow before returning to summer-like weather back in Ottawa.
“I knew everything (by the end), like driving on the other side of the road,” he joked. “I’m very happy about it.”
Though he’s participated in North American Cup and Canada Winter Games competitions – often as one of the youngest in the field – the junior worlds were the biggest competition of Lepine’s life.
”I was a little more stressed than I normally am. It’s a bigger platform of competing – like, it’s just a new level,” indicates the Fortune Freestyle product who was also on his farthest and longest trip away from home.
“With the cameras recording, it just made me perform at my best,” he adds.
Lepine executed two world-class big-air jumps in event final: a right double 1620 mute and a switch right double misty 1080 Japan – a highly-complex move, with only a handful of freeskiers in the world able to pull it off, Freestyle Canada notes.
In all, his score of 176.75 total points was second-best in the 53-athlete – sandwiched between 19-year-olds Leo Landroe of Norway and Fadri Rhyner of Switzerland in first and third with 189.75 and 163, respectively.
The last few days before the competition were mired with bad weather, limiting finalists to only two hours of training prior to competition day. Despite those challenges, Lepine says he was still able to pull off the moves to the best of his abilities.
“It was planned, but not exactly,” smiles Lepine, who also made the final and placed 12th in the men’s slopestyle event.
Lepine has spent time with both the Ontario and Quebec provincial teams as an Ottawa resident whose home hill is in Gatineau Park. In the weeks before he headed to New Zealand, Lepine practiced with a plastic dry slope and landing airbag in Ste-Agathe. Que. alongside Canadian world junior and Fortune Freestyle teammate Jacob Durepos of Brockville.
Team Quebec coach Jean-David Gaudreault says that he is extremely proud of Lepine.
“He is an athlete who has really good air-sense,” Gaudreault highlights. “He’s really physically strong and powerful, but he also knows where to go.”
Gaudreault credits Lepine’s older brother, Nicolas Lepine, for helping launch Matthew’s success as a member of the National Capital Region freestyle ski team.
“It’s really nice for Matthew to have someone like that for a brother,” underlines Gaudreault.
Ontario park and pipe team coach Laurent Currer-Briggs, who travelled to New Zealand to coach Matthew, competed with Nicolas several years ago.
“It’s really cool to see your athletes perform on the world stage,” Currer-Briggs signals. “It was so exciting watching the live scores come in.”
Lepine will continue chasing snow before it settles in the capital, with the next competition on his calendar coming in November in the Yukon. Longer term, Lepine says his goal is clear: make the senior national team and compete on the World Cup circuit.
Currer-Briggs says that as Lepine continues to grow as an athlete, he’d like him to remain an advocate for the sport and the community in which he started.
“Starting in a small town, in a small community, I hope that he can continue to support them as well,” explains Currer-Briggs, while forecasting bigger stages in Lepine’s future.
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