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March 28, 2013
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Passion for the halfpipe

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - On her own.

That's where Zyre Austin, a freestyle skier from Glenwood Springs, has been for the majority of her competitive career.

The 19-year-old has been without a personal coach throughout the time she's been competing. She's gone to different hemispheres to compete, and she's done it against some of the best young halfpipe skiers in the world.

Obviously, this week will be no different. Austin was selected by the United States Ski Association to be on its junior world championships team at the FIS Freestyle Junior World Championships in Valmalenco, Italy.

The event began on Tuesday with women's aeriels and women's moguls on Wednesday. Austin's event, the women's halfpipe, is slated for today. She's one of 35 skiers from around the nation who were selected to the team, which is competing against the world's best.

That kind of competition is something Austin has become accustomed to seeing and being a part of. It led her to the relaxed mindset she had going into the week-long event prior to leaving the country.

"I just want to have fun," Austin said. "I've come to realize that I'll be so into training that I realize I'm not even having fun anymore. That's when I don't do as well. That's why I want to go out there and have a good time and do what I love to do rather than try too hard."

Austin is the lone member of the USSA freeskiing team who isn't attached to an elite ski club or doesn't have a regular coach. And despite that absence, Austin has been able to hold her own and then some.

Last year was when Austin made the biggest splash, winning the women's halfpipe at the Freestyle Skiing Junior Nationals in Steamboat Springs. On Feb. 4, she took fourth in the halfpipe at the Aspen/Snowmass Open at Buttermilk Mountain, which drew some of the top halfpipe juniors from around the nation.

It turns out the four U.S. girls who beat her at Buttermilk aren't in Italy for the World Championships, which had her father and manager, Dan Villemaire, confident for a high finish. Austin headed into today's event ranked No. 20 in the Association of Freeskiing Professionals world rankings.

"This bodes really well for her," he said.

Villemaire, however, is quick to point out how Austin has been able to earn her spot on the team based on the lack of sponsorships and funds she has available to her. He pointed to an event in New Zealand, which made a difference in Austin earning a spot on the team. Instead of relying on financial backing from sponsorships or ski clubs to take care of travel expenses, Austin got a buddy pass flight voucher from a friend and took out a $3,000 personal loan to pay for the rest of the trip to the southern hemisphere to compete.

"I actually ran out of money on the way back," Austin said, showing an awkward smile.

That trip came last year, and Austin has picked up a few sponsors - Glenwood CrossFit, Sunlight Mountain Sports, Rossignol and Obermeyer, to name a few - since that trip was made. And regardless of how things turn out in Europe for Austin today, she's planning on cherishing the experience she has.

"This feels great," she said. "It feels great not just because it's skiing, but because a lot of people don't get an opportunity like this."

jmitchell@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Mar 28, 2013 02:05AM Published Mar 28, 2013 02:00AM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.