The old saying you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear is as outdated as a handlebar moustache, but the basic tenet of the adage holds true: you can't fake quality.
There are no posers on the 2006-07 Sun Valley Snowboard Team. Just a bunch of hard working, hard riding kids, according to program director Andy Gilbert.
"I spent the first couple of weeks just riding around looking at the different groups and it seems like the quality of the kids is as good as I have ever seen it from the little kids to the A teamers," Gilbert said. "The A and B kids are riding like it's mid-season and the Devo team members are already going off the top."
Gilbert would know.
Now in his 13th year with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF), he has seen his fair share of athletes. Given the caliber of riders on all five squads—A, B, C-Travel, C-Home and Development—Gilbert is understandably psyched about the upcoming season.
"We have kids at every level who could make the move up to the next team by midseason or at the end of the year," Gilbert said.
Many seasoned veterans dot the rosters since 18 SVSEF athletes competed at USASA Snowboarding Nationals last spring and 14 return to race this winter.
With their results from last season, A team members Kaitlyn Farrington and Austen Butler have prequalified for the Chevy Truck US Grand Prix Tour, which is one of the biggest snowboarding series in America, just a step below World Cup racing. Farrington recently went to the season-opening series in Breckenridge, Colo.
"You can be standing next to Kelly Clark ready to drop in," Gilbert remarked. "It's big time."
Success throughout the season will be spelled out in different ways for all the members of the snowboard team, as everyone has different goals—even members of the same squad, according to Gilbert.
"The A-team is basically our elite group, but our B team competes at a very high level," he said.
"For our kids on the B team we want them winning regional events and going to nationals. If they do well at nationals we look at moving them on the A-team. The A-team is a mixed bag of goals and pursuits."
Kenny Ballou, Heather Black, Jeremy Black, Austen Butler, Scott Fairfax, Kaitlyn Farrington, Scott Pike and Nick Shutz make up eight-member A-team. Head coach is AJ Grabos.
Gilbert said Austen Butler, a third-year rider on the team, is capable of making the finals at a Grand Prix event, winning a stop on the Revolution Tour and qualifying for the World Junior Championships.
"They're lofty goals, but realistic," Gilbert said.
Jeremy Black, 18, has been competing at a "high level for five years," and Gilbert expects said this could be a "breakout year" for him.
"He shows up early and leaves late. I think this is the season he distinguishes himself from his peers. He's very versatile and can do it all," Gilbert assessed.
Nick Shutz is also a senior member of the team. "An all-around good guy," Gilbert said.
Scott Pike, 17, "is an up and coming ripper," and Gilbert said his goals are very "trick specific in the pipe."
Gilbert speaks very highly of 16-year-old Scott Fairfax, who is "so good he doesn't even know it."
The coach said, "Scott can do whatever he wants with it. His success is in front of him." Fairfax is already pre-qualified to compete in Grand Prix slopestyle event in New Jersey this winter.
She has a solid 540 under her belt, and Gilbert wants to see 17-year-old Farrington add a 720 to her repertoire and get comfortable competing on the national stage.
"Kaitlyn is fearless and extremely coachable," Gilbert remarked. "She has a great attitude and works hard."
Heather Black, 16, is an accomplished rail rider and loves competing in slopestyle, where boarders are judged on runs in a terrain park.
"They both do stuff a lot of girls won't do," Gilbert said.
"The women in snowboarding have a real opportunity to go somewhere because it's one sport where the prize money is equal to the men's and the fields are smaller," he added.
Just 15, Kenny Ballou has moved up to the A team for his "incredible work ethic and natural talent." Ballou finished fourth in the J4 pipe at nationals last spring.
"Kenny is one of those kids who is so talented. If we can get to him early to establish training habits he could really do something by the time he is a senior," Gilbert said.
Both the A and B teams train five days a week; A-team members have shorter more specific sessions, while B-team practices are geared to racking up time and experience.
Jon French, a Sun Valley coach for 12 years, heads up the 14-member B team with assistant Jacob Tyler.
"As a group, it's pretty diverse," Gilbert said. "There is a real mixed bag of abilities and maturity. It's really the first time the kids are going to races with the coaches and not mom and dad and they have to learn how to manage their time and take care of things for themselves."
Returning riders who competed at nationals include Peter Driscoll, Colton Jones, Carey Reinemann, Bill Rheinschild and Rusty Williams.
Gilbert is also looking for good things from Quinn Baser, John Martin, Wyatt Bunce, Ross Bird, Zachary Bjorkman, Brian Drussel, Patrick Hurley, Mal Prior and Zach Lowry.
"Quinn is a ridiculously good skateboarder and has come a long way. JJ (Martin) looks solid and Wyatt is looking for one of those breakout seasons. Colton is a ripper," Gilbert said about the riders.
The C-Travel team was established last season. Sixteen riders make up the travel team and 14 are riding on C-Home. Both teams train three days per week.
Chatham Baker is the head C-team coach aided by Josh Keefer, James Young and Jen Galpin.
Chase Josey, 11, is already a veteran rider with several Intermountain wins and an appearance at last spring's nationals in which he competed in all five events—the only Sun Valley rider to do so.
Gavin Admire was another national competitor and Ryan Roemer is back from injury. Gilbert is also pleased with the strength of the girls on the squad most notably Ali Appleton, Bria Gillespie, Josie Bunce and Taylor Figge.
"The level of competition among the younger kids has gotten so tough. There are a lot of really good up and coming kids for sure," Gilbert said. "They all seem to have a great sense of pride to be snowboarders."
Younger kids will have seven stops on the USASA Intermountain Snowboard series this season starting Dec. 30 at Snowbird, Utah. "There is a nice competitive pipeline in place that we did not have five years ago," Gilbert said.
Lead coach of the 16-strong D-Team, which rides twice a week, is Mike Connelly with assistants Zach Venzon and Dana Monson.
"It's really fun watching those kids come up," Gilbert said.