Two athletes, one coach with Winter Park ties headed to Olympics |

Two athletes, one coach with Winter Park ties headed to Olympics

Reid Armstrong
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County, CO Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News | Sky-Hi Daily News

The only athlete heading to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver that claims Winter Park as his hometown is 27-year-old freestyle skier Ryan St. Onge.

An alumni of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, where he finished 16th, St. Onge has risen to the top of his class in recent years and is now considered to be one of the best freestyle aerial skiers in the world, having claimed the gold medal in the 2009 World Championships in Japan.

St. Onge skied for the first time when he was 2 years old and moved to Winter Park when he was 8 with parents Cary and Sara and his older skier brother Chad.

“If fate itself had concocted the weather that winter, it couldn’t have been any more influential. It snowed three feet every week for the entire season,” St. Onge writes in his online bio.

St. Onge trained at the Winter Park Competition Center for the next eight years and joined the U.S. Ski Team when he was 14. In the selection event for the team, he competed against people twice his age doing tricks that were far harder than his own.

St. Onge said he plans to keep training in Park City, Utah, for a few days but is hoping to get home to Winter Park before heading off to Vancouver on Feb. 11.

“I have so many friends in Winter Park that any time I go home, that’s the home I go to,” he said.

St. Onge said his strategy in Vancouver will be to perform, to the best of his ability, his two strongest jumps.

“There’s all this talk about five twists. I don’t want to go out and do a trick just because its new and cool. There’s no strategy involved in that.”

St. Onge explained that people have been doing different variations of four twists and three flips for a while now.

“It’s a struggle to get to that next step,” he said. “At the end of millennium, people were trying to go to four flips. They discovered that it’s just too difficult for the for human body. Then they began looking instead at trying five twists. Basically, you go off the jump and spin until you hit. It’s spectacular if you land it, but so far in World Cup competition, it hasn’t been performed to the level that the judges require for it to get good scores.”

But, in the Olympics, St. Onge warned, people are prepared to pull out all the stops in order to not be left short.

“It’s a big debate for most athletes but for me doesn’t matter just as long as I do jumps I want to do,” he said.

St. Onge said his favorite jump is a double-full-full-full, which is a triple backflip with a forward twist. If he sticks that perfectly, he said, he will try another variation of the same thing for his second jump.

St. Onge is keeping his eye on the competition. Anton Kushnir of Belarus is in the peak of his career and is the World Cup leader right now, St. Onge said, and both the Chinese and Canadians have strong aerials teams. St. Onge is also keeping tabs on teammate Jaret Peterson.

“Any day he has a good day, he is my biggest rival,” St. Onge said.

Another qualifier

While she doesn’t list Winter Park as her hometown, U.S. Ski Team member and World Cup Champion Michelle Roark spent most of her childhood riding the hill here with the Eskimo Ski Club out of Denver.

The 5-foot-tall, 35-year-old was at Winter Park Resort Thursday afternoon practicing her jumps on Ambush with coaches Toby Dawson and Chris Seemann.

Roark’s father Mike was a long-time coach for the Eskimo Ski Club and when the kids tried to stay home and watch cartoons on Saturdays, their dad told them to get their ski bibs on, they were going to Winter Park.

“If I wanted to see my dad, I had to go skiing,” Michelle said. “I still have a hard time keeping up with him.”

Michelle and her parents both own houses here and come up as often as they can, she said.

An Olympic alumni, Michelle placed 18th in women’s moguls at the 2006 games in Torino. Plagued by knee injuries throughout her career (she’s had six surgeries, three on each knee) her best finish to date in a major championship was a silver medal at the 2003 World Championships in Deer Valley, Utah.

With a degree in chemical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, she owns a salon and boutique in Denver called Phi-nomenal, which she opened about a year ago, and has created a line of perfume by the same name.

With the Winter Olympics only weeks away, Roark has her eye on the competition – only it’s not the competition you might think:

“I really really want to be on Dancing with the Stars,” she said. “Any excuse to dress up and wear makeup. The only times I get to wear pink are when I’m out here practicing. Otherwise I have to wear US Ski Team colors.”

In all seriousness, Roark said, the Canadians have a strong freestyle team and in particular, she has high hopes for her friend, 2006 Olympic Gold Medalist Jennifer Heil.

As far as strategy goes, Roark said, she’s hoping to pull off a 720 for the Olympics this year. Practicing the move on Ambush, her competitive figure skating background was apparent.

“Since I was 5 years old, I’ve wanted to be a chemical engineer and an Olympic athlete,” she said. “It’s about doing the best I can at what I love.”

Now, all that’s left is for the weather gods to do their work. The snow in the mountains around Vancouver has been abysmal, at best, this year.

“We’re hoping for the best,” said U.S. Freestyle Team coach Chris Seemann. “They’re trying to pull off such difficult tricks, and with no snow, it’s a challenge.”

The Canadian government has resorted to helicoptering in snow, he added.

Other athletes from the region include skeleton/bobsled team member Katie Uhlaender who is said to have family ties to the Williams Fork area around Parshall. There is also a strong Steamboat Springs contingent represented on the Nordic Jumping and Cross Country teams.

“All the kids we’re taking have the ability to be on the podium,” Seemann said.

– Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610 or

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