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Area trailblazer named head coach of Olympic big air team

Toben Sutherland, also coach of Canada's slopestyle team, excited about the 'chance to win more medals'

Toben Sutherland is adding a new hat to his collection.

The Orillia native has been named head coach of the new Big Air ski team for Canada’s 2022 Olympic entry; he is also head coach of Canada’s Olympic slopestyle team.

“It’s cool because there’s a chance to win six more medals,” Sutherland, 42, said over the phone from his Alberta home.

“It’s also interesting because it’s the same group of athletes (on both teams) so it makes a lot of sense. The slopestyle tricks are also the big air tricks.”

As coach of Canada’s slopestyle team, Sutherland has helped guide his athletes to multiple medals at past Olympic Games, including Huntsville’s Dara Howell, who captured the inaugural slopestyle gold medal at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

Sutherland said that while big air competitions are often held on the same slopestyle, mountain-side courses, they can also take place in locations where snow isn’t the norm since a jump can be set up anywhere with the right amount of scaffolding and man-made snow.

“Next season, we have a big air event in New York City, a big air event in Hungary,” he said, noting the International Olympic Committee wanted to add Big Air in 2022 after seeing how successful snowboard Big Air was at the most recent Games.

“They want to add more medals for TV. Snowboard Big Air was a success. It’s one jump. As a spectator, you can stand anywhere. It’s easy to watch and there are several vantage points so you can choose where you want to be.

“At the grassroots level, you’re using the same venue that already existed for slopestyle. The X Games already does that.”

According to Sutherland, the creation of the the Big Air Olympic events gives Canadian athletes the chance to bring home even more medals in the freestyle ski events where the country has been a dominant force since it’s introduction at the 1998 Nagano Games.

Officially, freestyle skiing also includes moguls, aerials and halfpipe with ski cross often thrown into the mix as well.

As far as future Canadian Olympic Games, Sutherland is disappointed Calgary won’t be hosting one in the near future since it would have helped ensure athletes had the home-grown venues they need to stay at the top of their game.

“It would have been so good for sport in Calgary and so great for the country,” he said, noting some of Calgary’s venues from the 1988 Games such as the bobsleigh track are aging and in need of upgrades.

“Calgary already gets a number of World Cup events. We could have had our dream training facilities. We’re having to travel too much to train.

“We have three team members from BC, two from Quebec, two from Ontario and then there’s me living in Alberta. Any time we need to get together to train it usually involves a long plane ride. For the most part, we’re getting what we need, but if we had (the facilities), we could stretch our dollars.”

But being named as Big Air’s new head coach isn’t Sutherland’s only honour so far this year.

Earlier in 2018, he was inducted in the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame in the builder’s category, but was unable to attend the official ceremony because he was best man at a friend’s wedding.

“Obviously, I was honoured,” said Sutherland, who was named Orillia’s athlete of the year in 1992 and turned to coaching in 2002 when he worked with the national development aerial team.

“Honestly, I didn’t even know there was an Orillia Sports Hall of Fame. When I found out who else was being inducted it was awesome.”

As an athlete with the national team program from 1993 to 1999, Sutherland had more than 100 FIS World Cup starts and earned the silver medal at the World Championships in 1997, as well as being the Grand Prix Champion and Crystal Globe winner in the same year.

Sutherland found his calling in the new school disciplines in 1998, and was the first athlete to perform double flips in the 1/4 pipe.

But while Sutherland has proven to be a trailblazer in the ski world, it all began on the former Oro-Medonte ski hill (now a private club adjacent Horseshoe Resort).

“I hit my first jump at Medonte,” he said. “My first freestyle program was at Beaver Valley.”

And while living in Calgary just an hour from the Rockies, might seem like a dream location for a skier, Sutherland said the traffic to the mountains is bumper-to-bumper on the weekends, unless one’s on the road by 6 a.m.

That said, he hopes to get out at least once a week for night skiing at Canada Olympic Park with his 11-year-old son Jevin this season when he’s not driving his other son, 13-year-old Ryder, and daughter seven-year-old Mila to the hockey rink.

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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