CALGARY - The race is on for spots on Canada's freestyle team for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and nowhere is jostling more intense than in men's moguls.
Canada can take a maximum of four men to the moguls races in Sochi, Russia, just over a year from now.
Five Canadian men finished in the top-10 on the World Cup last season and reigning Olympic champion Alexandre Bilodeau has returned to racing full time after a partial hiatus.
"We're the strongest team in the world in moguls on the men's side," says Mikael Kingsbury, the defending World Cup champion.
"It's pretty hard to qualify. There are some athletes who will be in the top 10 in the world on our team who probably won't be able to go to the Olympics."
The Canadian Freestyle Ski Association designated five competitions, starting with last week's World Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., where athletes can gather results for early nomination to Olympic team.
Saturday's World Cup stop in Calgary is the second of those events.
Kingsbury got a head start on a ticket to Sochi with a win in Lake Placid.
The 20-year-old star from Deux-Montagnes, Que., can extend his streak of consecutive World Cup podiums to 18 in Calgary, where he's the two-time defending champion.
"It's a good place for me," Kingsbury says. "I have good memories here and I can't wait to compete this weekend."
He and Bilodeau, from Rosemere, Que., are currently ranked first and second respectively in the World Cup men's moguls standings.
"Mik has been pushing me every day I'm on the slopes, whether it's training or competition," Bilodeau says.
Bilodeau won Canada's first gold medal at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.
The 25-year-old raced only a few World Cups in North America last season to both devote more time to his accounting degree at Concordia University and reduce wear and tear on his body.
"Now I feel more healthy that I did before," Bilodeau says. "I've got no excuse. I'm more in shape than I've ever been. I'm a better skier, I'm a better jumper and faster."
Marc-Antoine Gagnon of Terrebone, Que., and Cedric Rochon of Saint-Saveur, Que., are ranked fifth and sixth. Quebec City's Philippe Marquis, ranked fourth last season, sits 15th heading into Calgary.
The women's team is led by Montreal sisters Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe, ranked second and sixth respectively in the women's World Cup standings.
Next week's World Cup in Deer Valley, Utah, the Olympic test event next month in Sochi and the world championship in Voss, Norway, are the other CFSA designated races for early Olympic qualification.
Two podiums plus a top-16 finish, with one of those results either from the test event in Sochi or the world championship, is enough for the skiers to know before the summer that they'll be a 2014 Olympian.
There is still be the opportunity to qualify during the 2013-14 season, but that's a pressure-packed, exhausting prospect in men's moguls.
"It's a tough fight, especially when you have the two top guys in the world who are probably going to take one-two," says Peter Judge, the chief executive officer of the CFSA.
"It leaves little room for a slugfest underneath, but it will be there."
Calgary is the lone World Cup moguls stop in Canada this season. About 120 athletes from 19 countries will compete at Canada Olympic Park.
WinSport, which oversees the multi-sport winter venue, will continue to offer a $5,000 award to any Canadian athlete who finishes on the podium Saturday.
The organization introduced the prize money last year in the name of Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke, who died following a training accident.