Winter Park snowboard team readies for national championships, with growing number of athletes competing in boardercross
The details: National championships
The USASA National Championships in boardercross, slalom, giant slalom, half pipe and slopestyle will be held at Copper Mountain from March 31 through April 5.
Big mountain nationals will be at Snowbird Resort in Utah from April 10 to 15.
The United States Snowboard and Freeski Association National Championships are right around the corner, which means the Winter Park Snowboard Team is gearing up to try and dominate once again.
Last year, among numerous top 10 finishes, the team, which is based out of the Winter Park Competition Center, came away with three podiums, all from girls.
Stacy Gaskill of Golden, one of the best teenage boardercross and big mountain snowboarders in the country, won the gold in her boardercross age group. Lydia Silber of Winter Park took third in slopestyle, and Mia Farley of Westminster took third in boardercross, behind Gaskill.
Given the team’s history of success at the competition, there is reason for this year’s athletes to be optimistic again this year.
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“I feel really good about it,” said Michael Miller, director of the snowboard team. “It’s been a really good season. We’ve experienced some heavy losses, but also some really great successes, too.”
Successes may even be an understatement, especially for the team’s boardercross athletes. This is the largest boardercross team the program has ever seen, sending 18 to 22 competitors to USASA events in different age groups. At the team’s last competition in Crested Butte, 22 riders brought home 41 medals over the course of three events, a new benchmark for the team.
“That’s been a new standard for them this year,” said Miller. “Every event they went to they were coming home with 15 to 16 medals a day out of 20 kids.”
Boardercross: A growing sport
The team’s success in boardercross — a snowboard competition in which four to six snowboarders race down a course — also speaks to the sport’s growth over the last five years.
Children join the team from the time they’re as young as eight, and typically start trying out multiple disciplines. While traditionally about 75 percent of the team would eventually fall into slopestyle and halfpipe, however, the interest appears to have shifted towards boardercross.
Miller said that of the 60 team members, only about 30 percent compete in park or halfpipe, while 60 percent have made the switch to boardercross. About 10 percent participate in big mountain, another relatively new program wherein boarders make their way down steep chutes and natural features, and are judged on fluidity, control, line choice and others factors.
The shift in interest likely has to do with the relative lack of competition compared to park and pipe, opening more opportunities to compete for national championships. The team is also one of the only teams that gets to practice on a boardercross course with a pressure start gate, a new feature to Winter Park Resort this season.
“I think it’s kind of obvious looking at results that it’s been beneficial for us to have it,” said Miller. “It gives the kids a chance to work on the starts and get extra time with affective line choices. Even though ours has conservative features, with how tight the turns are you have to be on point to keep speed throughout, and have good line choices. It’s really been beneficial in a big way.”
Miller said the team has also seen a shift toward more girls joining over the last couple years, largely because of the success the team’s females have become accustomed to.
“People see Stacy (Gaskill), a few of the other ladies on our team and the results they’ve had over the last few years, and it’s really helped to grow out the female side of the team,” said Miller. We had six or seven new female riders this season, which is huge because we were starting to become a little male dominated.”
Gaskill closed out last season ranked first in North America in both big mountain and boardercross for her age group, and took home national championships in both. She’s also finished top five at the Freeride Junior World Championships in back to back years.
Gaskill may be the premier athlete on the team and one of only a few already competing on an international level, but Miller believes there are several other athletes on the team who could make a splash in coming years.
Miller identified Max Williams and Ricky Bugos as potential standouts, both of whom are already competing on the Revolution Tour, a level above the USASA. He also identified younger athletes Sarah Keck, Liam Pearce, Will Solomon and Indi Hale who can’t yet qualify for the tour because of age restrictions.
“We have a really young team right now, so at the moment we don’t have too many kids competing at the next-level events,” said Miller. “But we definitely have a few of the younger kids that are so passionate about snowboarding, and so committed that I expect them to go places in the future.”
Miller said he expects 15 to 20 members of the team to compete in nationals in one discipline or another. USASA National Championships in boardercross, slalom, giant slalom, half pipe and slopestyle will be held at Copper Mountain from March 31 through April 5. Big mountain nationals will be at Snowbird Resort in Utah from April 10 to 15.
“We would love to continue to see the team and the program grow,” said Miller. “I would say that we just want to continue seeing the same growth and keep preaching the same thing, which is love and passion for snowboarding.”
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