When Lacombe’s Makena Colenutt first saw the magic of freestyle skiing out at Canyon Ski Resort years back, something clicked.
Having been an avid gymnast and already an enthusiastic skier, Colenutt, now 18, knew that this was indeed a sport she should explore.
Her instincts were spot on.
Earlier this month, she competed in the FIS Mogul Opening in Hintertux, Austria which is described as a key pre-season gathering for mogul skiing.
This year’s event saw about 40 skiers from more than 10 countries take part.
“Essentially, it helps get athletes the points they need to be able to further compete in events such as the Canadian Selections,” said Colenutt, who has also been honing her skills for years with the Central Alberta Freestyle Ski Club.
Colenutt, who clinched seventh and ninth place in the back-to-back competitions in Austria, is now gearing up for a training stint at Apex Mountain near Penticton, B.C. to train for the Canadian Selections, which run Dec. 14-17.
Following this, it’s all about securing a spot on the NorAm Tour circuit next year, which edges her ever closer to Olympic Games possibilities.
“It’s a tour of all of the U.S. national team as well as the Canadian national team. These will be athletes that could be up next to go to the Olympic team.”
All in all, the future indeed looks very bright for this dedicated young athlete.
But back to the beginning.
“I was on a school ski trip when I saw freestyle, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” she recalled.
“I also have a gymnastics background, so I’ve done the flips and have developed that awareness. And I just love to ski. My dad had also been talking with an acquaintance one night, who had been telling him that his son was in the sport.
“Dad came home and the next day, he asked me if I wanted to try it out. I said, yes! Five years later, here I am.”
Meanwhile, she’s been with the Central Alberta team for about three years, plus part of a Jasper team so as to get even more access to further coaching.
“I still go to Red Deer and help out with the team there a lot. I love to see that team grow, and to see the next athletes coming up, along with visiting my old coaches and the parents, too,” she said.
This year, she is primarily training in B.C. with Kristi Richards of the KR Academy. Richards also happens to be a two-time Olympian and world champion.
These past years it’s been so much about juggling things — the demands of school and working with the rigourous routines of training.
“Even with school (here in Lacombe), I had a goal and I wanted to continue on that path and chase that goal,” she said.
“So I did summer school, finished a bunch of courses early, had tutoring, and did a lot of school work while away. My teachers supported me all throughout it.”
Colenutt pointed to her dad Geoff’s passion for skiing as being an influential force in her life, too.
“When I was seven, we took a trip to Whitefish, Montana, I put on a pair of skis and I absolutely loved it,” she recalled.
But it wouldn’t be until she was about 12 that she started to really zero in on hitting the slopes.
As for all things freestyle, Makena has certainly found what she loves best.
“I love that it is always challenging in some way. I’m always learning new things every time I ski,” she said.
“You are on a team, but it’s still an individual sport. You have to improve yourself in order to improve your team. It’s also fascinating as to how the sport continues to change. it’s always evolving.
“When you are at competitions, you get into that zone and it’s you and the course — and that is it. Everything around you goes silent,” she explained. “I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline or just the sheer drive to do well — but at competitions, there is the announcer, people are ringing cow bells, they are yelling. There are also people on every single jump on the course yelling their support. But somehow, it just goes quiet.
“My parents will say, did you hear them announce this or that, and I’ll say I didn’t hear anything As soon as they say ‘athletes ready’ I’m thinking about what I have to do, and nothing else around me matters at that point.”
To work on her skills in the warmer months, she heads to the water ramps at Three Mile Bend in Red Deer.
“I’m usually there — I pretty much lived there last year,” she added with a laugh.
“This year, I also spent a lot of time on the water ramps in Whistler. I also skied on the glacier from the end of June to about the middle of July.”
Ultimately, in the middle of all the training, it’s the home support that means so much.
“My family has been truly amazing,” she said. I give everything to my parents — I am endlessly appreciative of how much they do for me, and how much they support me in everything,” she said. “They have been so great through everything.”
For Makena, it’s all truly a dream come true — the global travel and the amazing chances to compete alongside some of the world’s most talented young freestyle skiers.
She admits she is tough on herself, in spite of her remarkable journey so far.
“I always think I should be further than I am,” she said.
“But knowing I did start in this a bit late, and seeing where I am now, I do have to be proud of myself in seeing how far I have actually come.
“I’m super grateful for it, and I’m (always) excited to see what it has to offer.”