Ketchum's Shanghai Palace restaurant was overflowing on Wednesday night with athletes more accustomed to being suspended in air than standing in line for a Chinese buffet.
The Sun Valley Freestyle Team held its annual awards ceremony at the Ketchum eatery, gathering over 50 skiers and their parents for a look back on a this past season's triumphs and ahead to a team that is running very deep with talent and youth.
The team has grown beyond Program Director John Zuck's expectations, particularly in the younger ranks. Zuck attributes a good deal of his team's popularity among younger skiers to freestyler Austin Moses' active recruitment.
For his successful efforts that have increased the team's size by an estimated 15 percent, Moses received the personalized Nathan Moses Recruitment Award.
After videos from the season played and picture albums circulated, Zuck recounted a year that sent a record dozen skiers to Junior Olympics and also five skiers to National Championships in Vermont in late March.
Of those top performers, Zuck and his coaching staff (Andy Ware, Tom Kennedy, Jeff Page) powwowed and singled out the best of the best on both the full-time and part-time teams.
The Coaches Award is given to the athlete who Zuck says exemplifies what the freestyle team is all about: enthusiastic and with a good, coachable attitude. This year's full-time Coaches Award went to Austin Moses with Adam Vorsteveld earning the part-time accolade.
The Most Improved Award was a tie on the full-time team with Lauren Phillips and Zana Davey sharing the honors. Both were among the 12 to qualify for Junior Olympics. The most improved part-time skier was Chris Clark.
The Outstanding Achievement Award tapped those skiers who impressed all season long. Kurtis Fieguth, the team's only departing senior, took the full-time award for a season of reaching his goals: consistent high finishes in the intermountain series and qualifying for both Junior Nationals and National Championships. Parker Page took home the part-time Outstanding Achievement award for inspiring the entire part-time squad to attempt flips. "He stepped up one day and did a front flip and got the whole team doing it," Zuck said.
The coveted Big Air Award went to Alex Conn who, according to Zuck, always tried to go higher and bigger than anyone on the team.
With over 50 pupils in his brood and only one graduating, Zuck has a lot to look forward to for next season. "I could use more coaches as well," he said.
In June, he will be taking some team members on a trip to Montana's Red Lodge Mountain and its summer ski and snowboard camp. Zuck is also planning trips to Park City for practice on their water ramps.
Here at home, Zuck is making a push for increased facilities to match his growing team. In particular, he is seeking an improved jump practice space. Possibilities include a ramp into an indoor foam pit, or a ramp into a local, full size pool.
"We have a young team-we always have a young team compared to many mountains we compete against," Zuck said. "I've got a lot to work with."