Katie Tsuyuki’s life spun 180 degrees during a year off school when she found a halfpipe in Whislter, B.C.
Katie Tsuyuki’s life as an athlete began on skis, bobbing in a lake with the handle of a tow rope clutched in her three-year-old hands. The motor revved, the slack in the line disappeared and Tsuyuki made it up. Over the years, she was pulled into wakeboarding (where she won a junior national title in 2001), in and out of competitive swimming and gymnastics, and through the terrain parks and runs of a handful of Ontario ski hills. But it wasn’t until a post-high school gap year brought her to Whistler, B.C., that she discovered her true athletic identity waiting for her at the mouth of the Blackcomb halfpipe.
“I’d always known that I wanted to pursue sport,” Tsuyuki says. “I just wasn’t finding the pieces.” In Whistler, things became clearer. Working up the nerve to drop into the pipe while the provincial snowboard team was training, Tsuyuki was spotted by then-team director Andrew George, who invited her to join the team. “He was the first coach that gave me really solid guidance,” Tsuyuki says. It paid off: By the following summer, she’d made the senior national team.
As Tsuyuki’s riding progressed, the Blackcomb pipe played a central role in her development. “The pipe ends up sitting right on this band of cloud,” she says. “There’s nothing above the band and nothing below it, but most of the time it sits in the fog.” That lack of visibility forced an emphasis on technical execution over amplitude, something still evident in Tsuyuki’s riding style. It also honed her into a uniquely capable bad-weather rider. “Now when I show up at a contest and it’s foggy or there’s low light, I appreciate having to train all those years in the fog because I have an advantage over all the other riders.”
The majesty of the twin peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb, and great late-season snow and facility maintenance, pull Tsuyuki back each spring to train. But her strongest connection is sentimental: “The first time I got into a big pipe and was really serious about riding halfpipe was when I moved to Whistler. That’s where I competed in my first World Cup,” she says. “A good chunk of the awesome people I’ve met snowboarding, I met in that first contest.”
An alternate on the Canadian team at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, all of Tsuyuki’s focus is currently trained on the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. If she makes it, pray for fog.