Friday, December 25, 2009

Small but mighty, SVSEF snowboard team packs a punch

New season of riding underway

Express Staff Writer

Andy Gilbert, director of Sun Valley Ski Education Foundations snowboard program. Photo by Mountain Express

One picks up all kinds of new lingo talking to Andy Gilbert, director of the snowboard program for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation.

But Gilbert doesn't just talk the talk, he inhabits it the way Shaun White occupies his competitors' psyches.

Gilbert's life, like most long-term coaches, pretty much revolves around the juggling of work and family. Priorities can become blurred at times—especially in the thick of the winter season. Thanks to a new terrain park and superpipe courtesy of Sun Valley Co., Gilbert's winter season is all-systems go.

"It's going to be really good for our program," Gilbert said about the new additions. "When we got the halfpipe here, our numbers just went way up in terms of our finishes. I expect the same thing with the park. It's the real deal."

Gilbert, in his 16th year with the SVSEF, has welcomed 29 athletes to a program divided into competitive (Comp), preparatory (Prep) and development (Devo) squads.

"There was too much separation in the past. The younger kids didn't know what was involved, especially in training, and now the older riders can show them the ropes," Gilbert said. "Hopefully, it brings the whole level up."

Gilbert can depend on 12 veteran Comp Team riders including Mal Prior and Wyatt Bunce to set a great example for the 17 younger riders.

The coach said, "Mal has worked extremely hard going back to last season. He sets the tone for practice and is very focused on his riding. He showed up for every dryland session going back to June. He is very motivated this year. Wyatt missed last season with a blown knee, but you would not know it. He is riding extremely well."

Competing in the Junior Women's class (ages 14-15) is a group of four very capable riders: Ali Appleton, Josie Bunce, Bria Gillespie and Hailey Rheinschild.

"I don't think it is going to be much of a challenge for them," Gilbert said. "All of them are very calm at events and work extremely hard at practice. We are working hard with the girls to get them to be more dynamic in their riding."

During last year's U.S.A.Snowboard Association National Championships at Copper Mountain, Colo., Bunce was sixth in slopestyle and Appleton pulled down seventh in halfpipe.

Chase Josey and Ryan Roemer, a pair of 14-year-old freshmen, are known as the "minis" but there is nothing small about their talent.

"They just feed off each other in practice," Gilbert said. "Both are exceptionally good snowboarders technically. Ryan is the personification of the word 'stoke.' He can ride everything. We are deciding what class Chase is going to ride in, Men's Open or Youth Men. It's a game-time decision."

Both riders have had strong showings in USASA Nationals. Roemer finished second in the Breaker Boys (12-13) slopestyle and Josey was fifth in slopestyle.

Colton Jones, Sam Strong, Dash Stethem and Rex Kelly round out the group, of which Gilbert said, "There are not a lot of egos in the locker room, and I hope it carries over.

"I want this to be a very dynamic working group, thriving and having a high energy level at practice. When we go to events they will know what their bag of tricks is and how to adjust their runs with confidence.

"We're looking forward to a more productive season and also looking forward to showing the community what these kids have been doing all the time."

Prep Team riders are Dehner Figge and Clyde Montgomery. The D team has doubled in size, thanks to the recruiting efforts of coach Billy Olson. Its members are Brooke Beckwith, Colton Cherry, Austin Eggers, Phoebe Ericksen, Aiden Green, Clara Jenner, Tayte Kelly, Emmy McCune, Carson Miller, Megan Miller, Connor Netter, Cora Schneider, Elk Spencer and Davis Olson.

"All are completely rad riders and it's a strong group of girls," Gilbert said. "They are really funny, too."

While enrollment in the program is off about 20 to 30 percent, which Gilbert attributes to the economy, the reality of travel and twin-tip skis, he is completely psyched about the team and the upcoming season.

"There is a lot of excitement with all the new stuff coming in and the kids we have seem completely committed to the program. I think we are smaller, but better."

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