ASPEN — Freeskiing is being recognized as a full-medal sport in the XXII Winter Olympics that open next month in Sochi, Russia. Two of Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club’s athletes, Alex Ferreira and Torin Yater-Wallace, could be in contention for slots on the team.
But just beyond this first wave of freeskiers is a pack of upstarts who are benefitting from the enhanced training facilities currently being offered in the valley. The giant air bag purchased last season by AVSC was employed at Buttermilk until almost the Fourth of July.
Since Thanksgiving — easily one month earlier than last season’s debut — skiers and riders have been utilizing the air bag for practice at Aspen Highlands. That, coupled with the giant trampoline that was another recent acquisition, has given athletes the tools to develop aerial maneuvers before they hit their tweens.
Eric Knight, AVSC’s Freestyle Program Director, noted that athletes — including Joey Lang of Carbondale and Jack Cohan of Missouri Heights — are learning tricks at a younger age than Yater-Wallace did, primarily because of the enhanced opportunities for local training.
Conor Burrows, 14, learned his first back flip here in the Aspen Highlands freestyle venue that AVSC has been developing with Aspen Skiing Co. over the past two years. Burrows competes in slopestyle and pipe events.
The air bag has been in use at Highlands since Thanksgiving, which has “helped us with reps because it’s a low-risk environment,” said Gage Carr, a sophomore at Aspen High School. Carr, primarily a pipe skier, is working on a trick called the double flair, which he explained is “technically a double back flip with a 180 degree spin.
Carr worked on tweaking the maneuver one recent morning after helping AVSC Freeride coach Greg Ruppel groom the in-run, the transition and the jump. That’s part of the team’s duties, as is inflating and deflating the air bag.
Maybe some day that double flair will be included among the quiver of tricks Carr uses at competitions. Ruppel said now that freeskiing is a full-medal sport in the Olympics, there’s a more clear pipeline to advancement.
“The athletes are excited to see their sport showcased on the world stage,” Ruppel said.
First, though, are regional events where skills can be further refined. On Feb. 8, which is also the opening weekend for the Winter Olympics, Aspen/Snowmass and the International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association will host a sanctioned event at Aspen Highlands.
The IFSA Junior Regional Freeride is open to those aged 10 to 18 who will compete in three age-class divisions. While the mountain has been determined, the actual venue won’t be named until closer to the competition.
More information is available at www.aspensnowmass.com/JRfreeride.