Sunlight Mountain Resort’s newly formed freestyle team building from the ground up |

Sunlight Mountain Resort’s newly formed freestyle team building from the ground up

Joelle Milholm
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

SUNLIGHT MOUNTAIN, Colorado ” Every Saturday they come. They ascend upon Sunlight Mountain Resort looking to hit all the features it has to offer.

They take on rails, go off jumps, pull off monstrous grabs and are always looking to take turns to the next degree.

They are the Sunlight Freestyle Team.

The squad, which consistently brings 10 riders to the mountain every Saturday, is an unofficial group in its first year of existence. It started with the hopes of helping snowboarders ages 10 to 18 to reach their full potential and enter the upper echelon every rider aspires for ” sponsorship.

The Sunlight Freestyle Team is the brainchild of Jon Petro and Austin Hadley. Snowboarders themselves, the two are teaching the kids everything they know.

In November, the duo started a production company called PKPC Productions with the idea of making extreme films. Their first thought was to film snowboarders. The aptitude of boarders on the mountain was undeniable, but Petro and Hadley needed to harness it.

“Over the last four years up here as an instructor, I see a lot of talent up here,” Petro said. “We just thought if we organize a team then maybe they can help us and we can help them because there are a lot of kids that have dreams of being on a sponsored circuit, and there is nothing here at Sunlight for that.”

Tired of seeing local freestyle riders take their abilities to teams elsewhere, such as Vail and Aspen, Petro and Hadley began telling people about the team.

“So we started talking to local kids and parents and building it by word of mouth, and this is what we have gotten out of it so far,” Petro said. “We just want to put Sunlight on the map as not just as a quiet little mountain, but that there is a lot of talent here actually.”

Ten-year-old Jordan Hanakeawe is a perfect example of that talent. Even at his young age, Hanakeawe can hit most of the features at the two terrain parks at Sunlight. With a lot of time to develop, and good coaching from Petro and Hadley, he could someday get sponsored.

Hanakeawe loves to ride the rails and can even do a 180 off them like a professional.

“I just learned a 180 three days ago,” he said.

A key element Hadley tries to teach the riders is remembering to successfully do each step of ATML ” which stands for approach, takeoff, maneuver and landing. If someone falls on a feature or doesn’t do what they were trying for, Hadley makes them explain which part of ATML went wrong.

Brett and Bryce Cannon are members of the team and commute to Sunlight every Saturday all the way from Parachute. Brett, 15, says he’s enjoyed this winter and gotten a lot of out being on the team.

“I have learned a lot from these guys and other stuff riding on my own using their lessons,” he said.

The Sunlight Freestyle Team was created with a very specific timetable. This year, the team is trying to gain members and lay the foundation for the squad. The team just trains at Sunlight, learning moves, gaining experience with the intention of joining the USA Snowboard Association competition circuit next year.

“We have just been trying to clean up bad habits the kids have ” meaning poor form. I have judged competitions, and we are using the USASA guidelines,” Petro said, “so we are just trying to critique them so that they are ready for next year when they go to bigger mountains for accredited competitions.”

While the team is open to riders ages 10 to 18, as well as skiers (it’s just that currently there is no ski coach but the team would love one), Hadley and Petro know that the future of the team lies in the strength of its younger riders like Hanakeawe.

“If you want to be a competitive rider, you need to start at age 14. The 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids we have on the team have a chance but their window is very short,” Petro said. “They have one season next year to prove themselves, and that’s kinda rough considering we’ll be starting basically dead last (in the team standings).”

There is also a good reason the team doesn’t have any riders younger than 10. It just isn’t safe for younger kids to hit the kind of features it has to for competitions.

“Before the age of 10 it is really hard for kids to have the muscle mass in their legs to actually be able to do freestyle, but by 10 they are starting to get there,” Hadley said.

In addition to throwing in competitions to the Sunlight Freestyle Team’s schedule next year, the coaches also want to add more elements. They want to teach the kids how to engineer freestyle terrain features, become avalanche certified and how to access and board safely in the backcountry.

The team has its work cut out for itself before next season rolls around, however. The boarders will hit the parks for the last time on Saturday before ending the training season. This summer the team will be looking to further develop itself by searching for financial aid.

“Basically what we want to do is organize these kids to sponsor themselves in a way because it costs a lot of money to get them into the USASA circuit,” Petro said. “So this summer is going to be them creating fundraisers and making money for themselves so that next year when we are ready, we can all start competing.”

Petro is in talks with Sunlight’s marketing directors about getting more involved with the team next season, and he says they are interested. With the mountain’s help, and more members, the team would get a huge boost.

It’s already grown into a great entity in the eyes of Petro and Hadley.

“It has been really cool watching this thing go from just me and Jon talking about it to us talking to the kids and starting to coach to what it has become now,” Hadley said. “We actually have a real team here.”

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