Friday, January 4, 2008

Fasten your seatbelts: Freestyle skiers in for bumpy ride

Express Staff Writer

Freestyle skiers take to the air. This year?s Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation team expects to place athletes in both the Junior Olympics and Junior Nationals competitions. Photo by Willy Cook

Bump skiing is relentless as a migraine and twice as explosive, which makes a sport for people with nerves of steel and intact knees. Luckily, the members of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation's freestyle team are as young and limber as the competitors in a certain Calaveras County contest, and despite their youth, are by no means green.

"We are really young, but there's some experience," said John Zuck, program director and head coach. "A lot of them have been with it since the beginning. They are here because they want to be and are pretty serious."

Boasting 14 athletes on the Comp Team, 11 on Prep and 34 in Devo, the freestyle program is in its 17th year under the umbrella of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation. Zuck said goals vary for every skier on the team, but the main impetus for coaches is to turn out skiers who are skilled and versatile enough to qualify for two major post-season events: the Junior Olympics and Junior Nationals.

"We sit down with each individual and find out what their goals and expectations are and what it's going to take to succeed," Zuck said. "Our goal as coaches is to make sure all our kids are combined skiers: moguls, aerials and halfpipe. They have to work at all aspects of it. We want certain kids to get to JO's and certain kids to nationals."

It's a very attainable goal for several members of the Competitive Team, including last year's national qualifiers Austin Moses, Austin Bourret and Zana Davey. Nine Sun Valley team members made it to Junior Olympics, including returning racers Hannah Haupt, Moses, Bourret and Davey. Davey had a ninth in aerials and Haupt tenth. Moses and Bourret recently competed at a U.S. Selection event as well, providing further seasoning.

Also on the Comp Team are Connor Braatz, Trevor Brand, William Eagan, Nathan Moses, Parker Page, Trace Page, Cameron Rendahl, Joey Richardson, Anita Vorsteveld and Adam Vorsteveld.

Prep team athletes are Julia Dwyer, Grace Eagan, Jake Flaherty, Wyatt Griffith, Eric Griffith, Addison Holmes, Trevor Norris, Alex Poster and Wyatt Wilson.

No matter what their age or level of skill, Zuck said all team members are encouraged to go one better every competition and keep raising the bar on their own goals.

"We want the kids to keep perfecting their own score. I don't care who they beat. The goal is to keep trying to move that score up," Zuck said, explaining that 30 is a perfect score (which he has never seen). "You might start at a 14 or 16, so next you try and get an 18."

Andy Ware and Jeremy Moore help Zuck coach the older kids. Jeff Page, Debbie Page, Justine Kaiser, Jane Reynolds and former SVSEF freestyle team member Chase Hamilton, head up the Devo Team.

"It's just a blast coaching the kids. We all really enjoy it," Zuck said. "Just the other day I skied with six little girls trying to perfect their 360s. There was a lot of giggling, high-fives and hugs. It was just a lot of fun."

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