Going for the Gold

A Sherwood Park native has a shot at gold in Sochi.

Courtesy of the Canadian Olympic Committee
As we enter the final weeks before the Winter Olympics many athletes are anxiously waiting to find out if they will qualify to compete in Sochi. But Sherwood Park native, Mike Riddle, can breathe easy – the 27-year-old freestyle skier has already qualified for the halfpipe competition. We sat down with Riddle to find out how he got into the sport and how he is preparing for what will be the biggest competition of his career so far.

Photo: Sven Boecker, courtesy of Canadian Olympic Committee.

Avenue: Did you grow up skiing at Rabbit Hill?

Mike Riddle: Edmonton Ski Club was the first place that I went skiing. My parents took me when I was two years old. I grew up going to the mountains every weekend – Marmot, Banff, Sunshine or Lake Louise.

Avenue: Your parents would take you before you could drive?

MR: Yeah, my dad was a big skier in the ’70s, a hot dogger. So he got me started at a young age. When I was younger, we would do family trips and we would go racing at little local events. Then, I switched to the freestyle program when I was 12 or 13. I did that Tuesday and Thursday nights at Edmonton Ski Club and then on the weekends we would go to Jasper, Sunshine or Fortress.

Avenue: Did everyone in your family ski?

MR: Everyone skied. Both my parents were very regular skiers. My younger brother got really into it. My younger sister would come when we were younger but she got more into equestrian as we got older so she wasn’t really a big skier.

Avenue: Which mountain do you consider to be your home mountain now?

MR: My home mountain is definitely Whistler. All of our training is out here and I love Whistler.

Avenue: What’s the best thing about Whistler?

MR: They always do everything they can to help us out with our training. They’ll get the pipe dialed in for us. The snow is always awesome. I love this mountain so much.

Avenue: What drew you into freestyle and halfpipe?

MR: I started out in a program in racing and I was never very good at it and I got bored. Just left right, left right, all day, every day. I saw people, some of my cousins and friends, in the freestyle program and they’d go hit jumps and moguls and I thought, ‘Oh, that looks awesome. I want to do that.’ It was a natural progression. I started out doing all the local events every weekend. We’d go to Red Deer, Banff or Jasper. It progressed from there.

I never actually said I was going to be a halfpipe skier. I did slope style, moguls, big air and halfpipe and after a few years, there was a chance – because snowboard halfpipe was in the Olympics – there was a push to get skiing halfpipe in. I had always wanted to go to the Olympics and I never knew it was possible so I thought, ‘I’m going to focus on halfpipe events and I’ll do slope style on the side.’ I specialized more and more. I still love to do slope style but I usually do it just for fun.

Avenue: Do you have a signature trick?

MR: In my run, I do a flat spin 3 bwarrow, which is a pretty standard trick for most pipe skiers but I do it with a grab that not many other people do. It’s called a bwarrow because you do one grab with each hand and it kind of looks you’re shooting a bow and arrow when you do it. You have one ski pulled in tight and the other one is extended. It’s bow and arrow or you can shorten it to bwarrow.

Avenue: What does training involve for you?

MR: The last two years, we’ve been on the national halfpipe team, myself and Roz (Roz Groenewoud), and others. Our training regiment is pretty much year round. In the off-season, we do dry land, which is with a trainer in the gym. It’s pretty leg heavy but we do full-body everything.

We also get on the trampoline. Our coach, Trennon Paynter, has a trampoline set up in his backyard in Squamish, a super tramp. There are only a couple in the world. They are pretty amazing. You can go way higher than a normal trampoline, way easier, and they are way softer. We use that for air sensory and working on new tricks.

In the summer, up on the glacier in Whistler, we have summer camps. They build us a halfpipe and an air bag. We train in it a bit and we also coach for them. During the season, we do a little bit of maintenance stuff in the gym, lots of skiing, a little bit of everything mixed in.

Avenue: Are you a confirmed Sochi athlete yet?

MR: Yes, myself and Roz are confirmed. For the Canadian team, you have to get two podiums in Tier A events, which I got in Sochi at the test event. But I screwed up really bad at the X games this year, so I didn’t have a Top 12, which you also need. Roz found out in Sochi and I found out at the next event, at the World Championships.

Avenue: How did you feel?

MR: Awesome. It felt really good. It felt like a big weight off my shoulders. I let out a big sigh. One less thing that I have to look out for next year. All the U.S. guys – no matter how good they ski – have to qualify next year at the Grand Prixes. It’s really nice that our NOC (National Olympic Committee) has an early qualification system; it takes a lot of the pressure off. I can just focus on what I need to do to win the Olympics as opposed to having to get there.

Photo: Sven Boecker, courtesy of Canadian Olympic Committee.

Avenue: What do you like to do when you’re not training or skiing?

MR: Mountain biking, road biking, tennis, golf are my big four but any sport or outdoor leisure activity, I’m pretty happy doing.

Avenue: Do you listen to music to get yourself pumped up to compete?

MR: I do. I don’t have a specific song or two that I listen to to get pumped up. But I started a couple of years ago listening to music for competitions and now I listen to music pretty much anytime that I’m riding. I have a mix of Top 40 dance music to get me pumped up mixed with some rock. That’s generally what I listen to. I don’t want reggae or something soft. I want something upbeat.

Avenue: Who is an inspirational person to you?

MR: Lots and lots of people. First and foremost, both my parents. They both live a good lifestyle and are very supportive of mine. They both did what they wanted. My dad was a ski bum for a while and then worked in construction. Then he went back to school when he had kids and became a lawyer. And now he is super supportive of me. My mom has been one of the most supportive people in my life.

One of my teammates, Sarah Burke, she was one of the most inspirational people that I’ve ever met. A lot of the things that I do on the hill and the way I look at things now are because of her. Editors note: Burke died on January 19, 2012, from injuries sustained in a training accident in Utah. Prior to her death, Burke pushed for the inclusion of the halfpipe event in the Winter Olympics. 

Our coach, Trennon Paynter, he’s another guy who lives life the way he wants to and has a blast every day. He’s an inspiration.

Avenue: Do you have a personal motto?

MR: I try to live every day to the fullest. It’s kind of corny but I like to look at every day like it’s … you never really know what’s going to happen. I just try to live every day and be happy no matter what and if something doesn’t go my way, it’s not a big deal.

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