Henderson on his way to the top

Long regarded as a mecca for moguls skiers, Apex Mountain Resort has a new star on the horizon. In fact, 19-year-old Alec Henderson of Penticton has already caught some big air against some of the best freestylers in the world. Earlier this year the Apex grad cracked the coveted line up of the Canadian NextGen Big Air and Slopestyle team which could land him a spot in the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy. The NextGen squad is described by its head coach Gabriel Leclerc as the “bench players” for the national World Cup squad. NextGenners fill in for national team World Cup athletes who are unable to compete at scheduled events. “It’s tough for the NextGen skiers because they’ve got to perform (at the Worlds) on demand if you want to make it,” said Leclerc in a telephone interview from his Quebec office this week. “You’ve got to do it on any given day because you’re not guaranteed you’re going to get another World Cup spot that year, so you’re all in. “We believe that Alec has that potential.” His coaches have so much faith in their rookie skier they’ve already picked him to compete in Stubai, Austria at the sixth edition of the FIS Freeski World Cup Nov. 16-20 against the best of the best. “This absolutely means the world to me, it’s really been a long journey and I’ve worked so hard and my family has put so much into this, it’s almost surreal,” said Henderson, who first clicked on the slats at age two. “Now I can focus more clearly at making the Olympics which would be unbelievable to represent Canada with my skiing and bring home the gold. That is my ultimate goal.” The Penticton athlete is the first Western Canadian skier to make this particular team in the last five-plus years, a squad generally dominated by Ontario and Quebec athletes. It was just after the 2022 Winter Olympics in February that Henderson got an opportunity to prove himself to NextGen coaches at the national selection camp in Whistler. He was one of the nine best skiers in the country who got the invite and only one of four to land a spot on the roster. “Alex was chosen — we had looked at him as a good prospect beforehand — because he has great fundamental skills,” said Leclerc. “After that we got to know him a little bit better, his personality, such a great kid, his parents raised him well. “He is very respectful, just a genuine human being and super positive, just a good person to have around.” According to the coach, with the amount of traveling, close proximity of the members and level of competition, skiing ability is only part of the equation that makes for a successful athlete. “It’s an individual sport, but it’s a team environment,” said Leclerc. “In sports or any business it’s the people you work with and working with Alec is a blast.”

While growing up Henderson excelled in both disciplines of the sport, moguls and slopestyle, having won more than 50 medals by the time he was 15, more than half of those gold. But in 2019 it was decision time, having been offered spots on both provincial teams he decided to go with his heart and chose to put all his efforts towards the multi-discipline freestyle genre. “I love the style aspect, everybody’s a different skier and you can kind of find your own way of doing it so it’s pretty awesome,” said Henderson. His coach described the sport as, “Having to be able to ski well, slide rails, jump and just overall be the best skier on the mountain. You’ve got to do it all. “These guys have got to be somebody who loves skiing, who’s part adrenaline junkie and fearless.” For Henderson, the cancellation of the 2020 competitive season turned out to be a “blessing in disguise,” allowing him to fine tune his skills. So in the 2021-22 season he was ready to make a name for himself and did so in his first NorAm circuit event, including winning a Canada Cup in big air and placing fifth in slopestyle. He credits his success back to his time at Apex and skills he learned from his coaches, in particular Kenni Kuroda. The life lessons he learned there inspired him to get his coaching certificate as a way to share his passion with local kids. “This has been a great experience for me to give back to the community by coaching the youth and inspiring the next generation of freestyle skiers,” said Henderson. “I like getting the kids fired up on the snow and having fun and if I can be a part of that…” There is a special evening planned in support of Henderson on Thursday at the Highway 97 Brewery from 5-11 p.m. that includes dinner, auction and music. Tickets are $20 and available from Highway 97.

Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Penticton Herald