Winter Park’s big mountain coach joins elite level competitors | SkyHiNews.com

Winter Park’s big mountain coach joins elite level competitors

Most of us who live, work and play in Grand County consider ourselves skilled skiers or snowboarders.

Spend just a little time in any one of Middle Park's watering holes and you're likely to be regaled with somewhat exaggerated stories of weekend warriors charging hard down our local ski runs. Once in a while, though, you might happen across one of the professional skiers or snowboarders who call the Fraser Valley home.

The list of top tier ski athletes in Grand County grew by one recently when Fraser resident and Winter Park Competition Center coach Rachel Croft qualified for the Freeride World Tour. Croft qualified for the tour after competing in a series of Freeride competitions throughout North America this season.

When Croft begins competing in the Freeride World Tour next year she will be one of only eight women from around the world participating in the tour. The tour, totaling five different events, takes place mostly in Europe in such stalwarts of the skiing world as Chamonix in France, the Austrian Alps and Andorra. The tour is divided up into two segments. The first three competitions are open to all eight female qualifiers. The top six competitors from the first three events then advance to participate in the final two.

Croft said she is definitely going to go and compete, but acknowledged financial constraints could pose a problem. "The biggest obstacle for me will be the financial side of it," said Croft. "The tour covers lodging for athletes in the days leading up to an event but because the events are usually a week or two apart most athletes stay over in Europe during the tour. Coming home between events can be impractical."

Luckily for Croft she is already sponsored by a few different businesses, including Icelantic Skis, Xevo Optics and Grand County's own Hideaway Park Brewery. Croft is keeping her eyes peeled for additional sponsors as well to help cover costs associated with the tour.

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Originally from Seattle Wash., Croft began skiing when she was just two years old and first learned to take turns on the snow at Crystal Mountain Resort southeast of Seattle. The young woman has been skiing for well over 20 years now and has been a big mountain/freeriding coach for four years, including the last three spent working with the young athletes of the Winter Park Comp Center. Croft is the big mountain coach for Winter Park, which she says is essentially just another term for freeriding.

Croft got into competitive freeriding after moving out to Grand County. One of Croft's high school friends lived in Winter Park and competed in freeriding. "I watched some footage from some of their competitions and thought it looked fun," Croft said. "I signed up for some competitions. I had a blast and just kept doing it."

Going into the North American freeride qualifying tour this winter Croft did not expect to qualify for the World Tour and was not planning to really try specifically for that goal. Croft explained that freeride competitors must purchase a license through the tour organization to compete in various qualifying events. The tour allows competitors to purchase competition licenses for a single event, or the entire season.

Croft had initially planned to compete only at Revelstoke, the first qualifying event of the year in North America. But after taking home a first place finish several people around Croft encouraged her to continue competing in the series. "I asked people why, and they said, 'Because you could qualify for the World Tour.' I thought, 'no, I'm not going to be able to qualify."

Croft went on to take first at a freeride competition in Taos and finished fifth at the freeride event held at Kicking Horse Ski Resort in Canada. Her fifth place finish at Kicking Horse secured her spot on the tour. She got the good news that she had definitely made it into the 2017/2018 Freeride World Tour as she prepared to take the slopes for another freeride competition at Crystal Mountain Resort in March. When asked how she felt after finding out she had made it into the World Tour Croft struggled to put her excitement into words. "This was not something I ever saw myself doing, so finding out I made it was definitely overwhelming."

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