For Andy Gilbert, the summer of 2005 will go down as the year when he finally got a chance to catch his breath and reorganize his ever-growing Sun Valley Snowboard team into a more well-oiled machine. To help clear his head, he also sent eight riders and A-team coach A.J. Grabos to New Zealand's Southern Alps for a month-long pipe and park training session.
Along the reorganization theme, the snowboard team expanded their locker room space this season, swapping some room with the freestyle program, a sure sign that the boarders have been officially accepted as an integral part of the Sun Valley Ski Education family, rather than being looked upon as a bunch of baggy-panted, knuckle-dragging park rats.
Still, with 65 riders packed into the space, Gilbert doesn't want anyone to think his team is being lavished with luxury.
"We're kind of a cozy little family in there," he says. "But it's better than it was."
With 85 riders in the program, Gilbert is encouraged mostly by how many younger athletes stack his roster.
"We will be plenty healthy in years to come," he said.
The snowboard team suffered minimal losses to graduation last season; Bobby Flanigan (who turned heads by winning Overall Freestyle gold at the 2005 nationals) and Shane Haile were the only two seniors lost from last year's squad.
Gilbert has laid plans to start capitalizing on his depth and youth now, rather than waiting until the grommets reach full size. To this end, a new strategy has C-team athletes (11-13 years old) traveling to regional USASA (United States of America Snowboard Association) events this season, whereas in the past they were limited to the one home competition of the year.
Getting his younger members competition ready is only logical; of 85 total riders, the C-team runs 45 strong. Fifteen of these will form the C-travel team.
C-Team coaches Chatham Baker and Ciam Parten will meet athletes and their parents at mountains in Utah, Wyoming and Idaho for events throughout the season. This marks the first year that such young Sun Valley riders have ventured beyond the friendly confines of Baldy for competitions. They will be some of the youngest riders on the intermountain travel circuit.
"Other teams don't know the depth that Sun Valley has -- it will kind of surprise them," Baker said. "The foundation of the program is going to be highlighted. From 8 to 18 (years old), other teams will have to recognize our size," he said.
Moving directly to the C-team travel squad, with their name in lights, will be Chase Josey, 10, and Ryan Roemer, 10, unquestionably some of the brightest young (very young) stars on the national snowboarding scene. Josey and Roemer finished one-two at nearly every regional event they rode in last season.
The proof was officially in the pudding at 2005 Nationals at Colorado's Copper Mt.: Josey took gold in the halfpipe against a large and competitive field. Both have been invited to a Grand Prix Junior Jam at New Jersey's Mt. Creek this January.
Josey and Roemer will be attending all regional USASA events this season, along with other national level competitions, making names for themselves while hopefully avoiding the classic early burnout of pre-teen athletes (think Jennifer Capriati).
"We are trying to keep it fun for those guys. They definitely have a competitive drive, but we aren't trying to push them too hard."
In addition to Josey and Roemer, Baker points to Ross Bird, Cary Reinemann, Gavin Admire, Josie Bunce and Haiely Rheinschild as likely C-team standouts in the team's breakout season.
The in-house shuffle doesn't stop at the C-team. Gilbert is moving his B-team, coached by Billy Olson and Jon French, into the travel schedule formerly occupied by A-team athletes. The B-team will be defined by a core of girl shredders: Heather Black, Kaitlin Farrington and Cecilia Lico, an exchange student from Italy living and riding in Sun Valley for one academic year. For the guys, Kenny Ballou and Scott Pike should be standouts.
Meanwhile, Gilbert's top A-team riders also raise their bar as they get into a routine of competing at major professional events riding alongside top professionals with regularity, rather than as a mere once-a-season treat.
"We have a smaller, more dedicated, talented group of guys," Gilbert said of his top riders. By establishing his A-team as a sturdy bridge between regional events and bigger, grand-prix, international competitions, Gilbert has ostensibly created a sort of Special Forces, or Navy SEAL unit in his program, fit for the most dedicated, talented athletes on his roster.
Jens Peterson, 17, Jeremy Black, 16 and Austin Butler, 16, are among those A-team standouts who, this week, were competing at a Grand Prix, Olympic qualifier in Breckenridge, Colorado.
Traveling has already begun for the Sun Valley Snowboard team and will continue all winter through the Feb. 25-26 home event at Baldy's brand spanking new superpipe.
"It's gonna make all the difference in the world," Gilbert said of the new pipe, "We were holding back in the other pipe -- there were tricks we couldn't teach in there," he said, referring to the safety concerns in last year's steep and narrow pipe.
Overall, Gilbert is his usual, stoked self, positive and fully involved in his program. "The staff is the best we've ever had," he said, noting that with 12 coaches, the average group size will be seven riders to one coach, a ratio prime for even the youngest riders to learn and have the chance to be A-team material.
Gilbert sums up his feelings: "The future looks real good."
Sun Valley Snowboard Team 2005-06 schedule
December 13-17 Chevrolet U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix Breckenridge (Colo.), HP/QP
December 16 U.S. Snowboardcross Championships Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort, Ore.
January 6-8 Chevrolet U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix Mt. Bachelor (Ore.), HP/slopestyle
January 7-8 USASA Intermountain Snowboarding Snowbird (Utah), slopestyle
January 14-16 USASA Intermountain Snowboarding Jackson Hole (Wyo.), slopestyle/SP
January 20-21 Chevrolet U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix Mountain Creek (N.J.), HP/QP
January 21 2006 Winter Olympic Team announcement After Mountain Creek Grand Prix
January 28-29 USASA Intermountain Snowboarding Park City (Utah), slopestyle/SP
February 4-5 USASA Intermountain Snowboarding Grand Targhee, SBX
February 12 2006 Winter Olympics Men's halfpipe
February 13 2006 Winter Olympics Women's halfpipe
February 16 2006 Winter Olympics Men's SBX
February 17 2006 Winter Olympics Women's SBX
February 22 2006 Winter Olympics Men's parallel GS
February 23 2006 Winter Olympics Women's parallel GS
February 18-20 USASA Intermountain Snowboarding Snowbasin (Utah), SP/slopestyle/GS/SL
February 25 Intermountain Snowboarding Rail Jam Sun Valley
February 26 Intermountain Snowboarding Superpipe Sun Valley
March 3-5 USASA Intermountain Snowboarding Snowbird, SP/slopestyle/GS/SL
March 9-12 U.S. Snowboard Cup Lake Placid (N.Y.), PGS/HP/SBX
March 27-April 1 USASA Nationals Northstar at Tahoe (Ca.)
NOTES: Many of the events are sanctioned by the United States of America Snowboard Association (USASA).
2005-06 Sun Valley Snowboard Roster
SUN VALLEY SNOWBOARD TEAM
Snowboard team director—Andy Gilbert (12th year).
Coaches, staff—Head coach Andy Gilbert. Other coaches Jacob Tyler, A.J. Grabos, Billy Olson, Jon French, Chatham Baker, James Young, Ciam Parten, Josh Keefer, Mike Connelly, Dana Monson and Zach Venzon.
"A" Competition travel team (7)—Jeremy Black, Austen Butler, Scott Fairfax, Michael Kunz, Sidney Parkhill, Jens Peterson and Nick Shutz. (Tuition $2,595 for competitive riders, on-snow Wednesday through Sunday).
"B" Regional Team (13)—Kenny Ballou, Quinn Baser, Heather Black, Wyatt Bunce, Thorin Dickey, Peter Driscoll, Kaitlyn Farrington, Katie Fiaschetti, Colton Jones, Cecilia Lico, J.J. Martin, Scott Pike and Mal Prior. (Tuition $1,875, minimal travel, on-snow Wednesday through Sunday).
"C" travel team (16)—Gavin Admire, Ross Bird, Josie Bunce, Reed Burdge, Hayden Burdge, Austin Cruz, Mattias Fostvedt, Fynn Funke-Riehle, Bria Gillespie, Chase Josey, Cary Reinemann, Bill Rheinschild, Hailey Rheinschild, Ryan Roemer, Rusty Williams and Katarina Demovicova. (Tuition $1,450, introduction to gates and plenty of free riding; on-snow Thursdays, weekends and holidays).
"C" home team (26)—Ali Appleton, Benjamin Broderick, John Chrysikopoulos, Kelly Collins, Taylor Figge, Jesse Forgeon, Charlie Harder, Nick Howard, Max Jones, Everett Ford, Jackson Long, Andy Mallea, Josh Morell, Michael Nero, Lucy Paisley, Maggie Shafran, Britton Stevenson, Sam Strong, Anthony Thelen, Zach Trautwein, Danny Veytia, Cody Swenke, Noelani Garing, Miles Hendrix, Jake Vegwert and Connor Zaft. (Tuition $1,250, introduction to gates and plenty of free riding; on-snow Thursdays, weekends and holidays).
"D" team (22)—Caitlyn Admire, Colton Bailey, Roger Figge, Emmet Fortuin, Anders Fortuin, Laurel Gaeddert, Bryce Gillespie, Megan Jones, Parker Morris, Hayley Murach, Reid Shafran, Riley Sibbach, Tyler Spence, Lauren Willows-Munro, Calder Zarkos, Sam Rogers, Hannah Robideaux, Cole Caminiti, Kathryn Caminiti, Reed Roudabush, Sage Howe and Kaikoura Howe. (Tuition $665, for younger riders, on-snow weekends).