Andy Gilbert was the coach with the most during the USASA National Snowboard Championships last week at Northstar, Ca., in Lake Tahoe.
He had a full staff of seven coaches, a total of 18 Sun Valley riders competing (out of 23 local qualifiers from the Wood River Valley) and he arrived with one of the largest qualifying teams of any snowboard program in the country.
"Some of these programs only have 20 to 30 riders total, so to bring that many to nationals just blew people away," Gilbert said after an exhausting week with his Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation traveling contingent.
In all, 1,300 riders converged on Northstar's terrain park, halfpipe and race courses to compete in five events each day for five days. Some days, coaches were on the snow from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., Gilbert said.
Overall, Sun Valley fared best in the halfpipe, a definite payoff from two years having a facility at home on Baldy. The team's best rider and only athlete to podium at nationals was Scott Pike, who placed third in the Junior Men's halfpipe.
Also in the pipe, senior Jens Peterson finished fourth, getting nudged out of a podium spot by the last rider in his Open Men's division. It was Peterson's last race as a Sun Valley team member and, according to Gilbert, he put it all on the line.
"He was going bigger than he has been all year. He was blasting," said the Sun Valley head coach.
Nationals also proved that the future is full of stars for this team. Kenny Ballou, 13, and Katlyn Farrington, 16, both finished fourth in Youth Men and Junior Women's pipe classes, respectively.
"She's the real deal," Gilbert said of Farrington who, at 16, has another year to continue dominating regional competition in her 16-17 age group.
Chase Josey, 11, was the only Sun Valley rider to qualify in all five events at Nationals. For his versatility, Josey earned a fifth-place spot both in the freestyle combined and the triple combined. He also finished eighth in the halfpipe.
The team's other departing senior, Michael Kunz, was dealt a bad hand when he broke his collarbone in training.
In Tahoe, some riders were looking for better finishes, but even Gilbert was stunned to see the quality of the competition.
"There was some unbelievably high levels of riding out there. I've never seen it as good as the kids are riding now," he said.
Overall, Gilbert is pleased with the way yet another hectic season progressed for his team, his coaches and program. "I'm super encouraged. The kids are the ones who are doing it, qualifying for bigger and bigger events and getting on the podium when they get there."
In Tahoe, the team always plans a weather day in case a day of competition is postponed. This year, the weather day was free and also happened to fall on a major Lake Tahoe storm. The entire Sun Valley crew headed over to Alpine Meadows resort to ski three feet of the fresh stuff, ending the season on a fitting note.
"What a great way to end the season! We reminded them that snowboarding is fun and not always just pressure and competitions," Gilbert said.
He acknowledged that, with plans already in the works for Mt. Hood and New Zealand summer training, the season never really ends. "We say the season is over, but it's never really over," said Gilbert.
SV nationals team: Gavin Admire, Rusty Williams, Bill Rheinschild, Austin Cruz, Chase Josey, Cary Reinemann, Scott Pike, Heather Black, Jeremy Black, Katlyn Farrington, Michael Kunz, Jens Peterson, Scott Fairfax, Kenny Ballou, Peter Driscoll, Colton Jones, Austen Butler, Sidney Parkhill.
Results: Halfpipe: Open Men: 4—Peterson. 27—Butler. Junior Men: 3—Pike. 46—Parkhill. Youth Men: 4—Ballou. Junior Women: 4—Farrington. Youth Women: 20—Black. Menehune Boys: 8—Josey.