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Yampah graduate going downhill fast

Joelle MilholmGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Submitted Photo
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Skiing down mountains as fast as he can, dodging rocks and flying off 40-foot cliffs is what Scott McBrayer lives for.The 2006 Yampah Mountain High School graduate is a U.S. freeskiing competitor.Forget groomed runs with gates. McBrayer skis over rocky terrain where he will drop 800 vertical feet in 40 seconds. The mountain almost taunts McBrayer, echoing the lyrics of AC/DC’s “Shoot to Thrill.” McBrayer listens to the song, with its lyric, “I’m going to take you down -yeah down, down, down,” sometimes while skiing.”You get to the top and look over the edge and it’s straight down to the bottom. If you travel 50 feet out, you are going to go 100 feet down,” said McBrayer. “Or worse, there are areas where you go five feet out you’ll go 100 feet down. And you’ve got to manage to make turns down that face.”The 19-year-old recently wrapped up a successful 2006-07 season, taking 30th at the U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships at Crested Butte, placing 35th at the U.S. Freeskiing Nationals in Snowbird, Utah, and ending with a 12th-place finish at the North American Freeskiing Championships in Kirkwood, Calif. In that finale, McBrayer was also honored with the Young Gun award – given for outstanding achievement in competitive freeskiing for skiers less than 21 years old.Some of the footage from those events can be seen in video clips on usfreeskiing.com. McBrayer said he watches it after competing and is in awe of what he sees.”You watch it and you realize what it is really like because there are rocks five feet tall sticking randomly out of the snow and you miss them by 18 inches going 50 miles an hour,” he said.There is obviously a high-risk factor to freeskiing, but it’s an aspect that gives McBrayer a rush.”The risk of injury is quite high. I watched four people leave in helicopters this season. All of them are OK,” McBrayer said. “I have dropped 40-foot cliffs. You trip over something and you just rag doll for 400 yards. You are at the bottom, you’re dizzy, you don’t know what just happened and you don’t know where you are or where any of your ski equipment is.”

McBrayer has come all too close to being one of the skiers who is airlifted from a mountain. Two years ago, McBrayer was hitting features in the park at Snowmass. “It was just going to be a little switch three over a table and I caught my tips and the tail of one of my skis hit first and my hip hit next. I thought my back was broken. I thought there was a good possibility of being paralyzed,” he said. “It’s just a spark in the back of your brain, and it is the worst feeling ever.”Ski Patrol immobilized him and moved him down the mountain on a sled. The wreck had caused some damage to his sacrum, but instead of being paralyzed, he just had to take a few weeks off.To help guard against injury, McBrayer skis in $2,000 worth of safety equipment. He wears knee braces, a full-face helmet with a chin guard to protect against concussions, a mouth guard to protect his teeth and padded shorts. And he wears a motocross-like suit with elbow, shoulder and spine protectors. The suit is an important precaution.”One wreck, your season or your career can end,” he said.Outside of personal injury, there are also avalanches to worry about.”There is always that chance of an avalanche,” McBrayer said. “I have gotten caught in a few little ones, but I’ve been pretty lucky.”With avalanches and injuries constantly on his mind, McBrayer says competing is a whirlwind, sometimes.”It just adds to the excitement. Skiing in a big mountain competition is a combination of extreme calculations in your head, but it is completely fueled by adrenaline,” he said. “I am thinking, ‘I am going to this feature, and then that, then I look for this tree, then I make a left turn, and then there is a chute. Straight down the chute.’ Then you drop in and you stop thinking and it’s just go time. Most of the time you get to the bottom of a venue and you turn around and you’re going, ‘What just happened?'”

McBrayer first hit the slopes at 18 months with his father Tom. “He could ski better than he could walk,” Tom said.McBrayer began to ski with his coach Don Strickland at Sunlight Mountain Resort and competed in his first races at age 10.”We would do speed runs up at Sunlight just to see how fast we could go,” McBrayer said. “I’ve seen (Strickland) hit 100 miles per hour before and I’ve been pretty near.”In 2005 McBrayer took first in the junior men’s skiercross at Crested Butte, but decided to give up events like skiercross and slalom to go for freeskiing. “I love freeskiing. The steeper and the more features, the better,” he said. “I am definitely into the technical skiing part of it. I want to get on the middle of the cliff base on the little patch of snow that nobody else has touched yet.”Now McBrayer spends his winters traveling around the country to compete. After taking the lift up, McBrayer sometimes has to hike to get to the start of the event. Then he scopes out a few paths.”Usually I’ll have three or four different lines that I’ve looked at and I feel comfortable with,” McBrayer said. “Then I ski the one I feel I am going to be able to ski cleanly.”At 5-foot-8-inches and 135 pounds, McBrayer is one of the smallest guys in the tour. But he says freeskiing is a sport for all body types as long as you have one thing. “It’s kind of like, whoever has the biggest cojones,” he said.



McBrayer will be competing in the North American Freeskiing Tour again in 2007-08 and is looking for sponsorships to help ease the costs of traveling and competing.”I am going to have sponsorships going into next season and that’s the lowest level, from there it is just about marketing yourself. You need those magazines. You need those movies,” he said. “You need to get into those to get your name out there for people to realize you are a really cool skier and doing some cool stuff.”This summer, McBrayer will be lifting weights, building his core and riding his bike a lot to prepare for next winter.”I need to be in a lot better shape next year than I was this year. My original goal was just to be able to be able to contend with the pros,” McBrayer said. “Now I am to and above that point. From here it is just shoot for the top.”Eventually, McBrayer said it would be a dream to be featured in a skiing film.”Teton Gravity Research puts out the best films. Big mountain skiers,” he said. “That’s the ultimate goal – ending up in Alaska heliskiing and getting paid for it.”But for now, he’ll keep challenging mountains and all the rocks and cliffs they have to offer.


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