Friday, February 4, 2011

Why we ski

Hot dog! Freestyle has come a long way

Express Staff Writer

     In 1973, before there was snowmaking on BaldMountain or sophisticated equipment to groom runs accessed by high-speed lifts, “hot-doggers,” precursors to today’s freestyle skiers, were ripping it up on the bumps, the seams and in the trees. It was in 1973 that Sun Valley hosted the first U.S. Freestyle Championships.

     Leading the way down that era’s mogul fields and natural terrain parks was Joey Cordeau of Ketchum. Cordeau went on to become a four-time World Mogul Skiing champion, creator of a series of popular how-to videos and a coach to valley kids for the past 20 years. Cordeau arrived with the second wave of hot-doggers and elevated mogul skiing to a new level. He and his buddies helped bring the next big thing into the mainstream.

     Cordeau is also the father of locally grown children Christine and Shane. Christine skied moguls and ski cross at top levels and now shares her experience as a coach with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation.

     Shane, a member of the U.S. Ski Team, is currently gunning for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. And with a top finish at the U.S. Freestyle Selections last December, a fourth-place finish at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and the highest qualifying American finish at the World Cup earlier this month, he is poised for big things on the international stage.

     Though freestyle has officially been recognized as a sport since 1979, this acrobatic form of technical and aerial skiing has only really taken off, pardon the pun, in the past 20 years. The “hot-doggers” evolved into aerialists, ski cross racers and “new school” skiers who make short order of step-up jumps, tabletop jumps, boxes, rails, car-size moguls and anything else they can maneuver over.

     But the more snow sports have changed over the years, the more the fundamentals of mogul skiing have remained, for the most part, unchanged. The basics remain constant, at least in Sun Valley, at least under Joey Cordeau’s tutelage.

     Skiing moguls well is “just like skiing anything else,” Cordeau said.

     “You have to get the ski to do the work. I don’t teach a mogul-specific technique. I teach basic skiing—really good technical skiing that can translate to any terrain.”

     The basics of Cordeau’s technique involve being smooth and making clean, short-radius turns, like a skier would on any other run. And in the case of moguls, he advocates not getting stuck in the zipper line.

     Cordeau sees a great future for freestyle skiing in Sun Valley. The resort plans to hold more freestyle events to get people coming to ski Baldy and Dollar and to generate interest in what freestyle offers.

     “On Baldy, we have the most consistent runs in the world,” Cordeau said.  “You can make more turns here with a steady pitch than you can anywhere else in the world. It’s not really steep, then flat, then steep. And the weather, of course, makes it the best skiing anywhere.”

     The next generation of skiers, most now growing up without benefit of a championship skier for a dad and coach, are being exposed to freestyle from the earliest age simply through osmosis. Cordeau thinks the new terrain features on Dollar and Baldy will show all skiers the possibilities of freestyle, and get them excited about all the different aspects of the sport.

     Cordeau is head moguls coach of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, which embraced freestyle by the late 1980s. And though enrollment is up in all the foundation’s divisions this year, it is up the most in the freestyle program, with 20 new shredders on its roster this season.

     The world’s best mogul skiers are currently in Deer Valley, Utah, competing in the International Ski Federation’s 2011 World Freestyle Ski Championships. The competition lasts through Saturday, Feb. 5. Shane Cordeau is there, competing, showing off what he learned at his father’s heels.

     “This is the biggest event for mogul skiing this year,” Joey Cordeau said.

     But for our local kids, the real action is next weekend, Feb. 12-13. That’s when Cordeau will take a group of Sun Valley freestylers to ski the same World Championships course in DeerValley as a part of the Intermountain Division junior races.

     “It’s cool,” Cordeau said. “They get to ski the exact same run as the big boys, a run that is the steepest, longest and most challenging one around.”

     And then they’ll come back and keep training, with Cordeau on their heels, or more likely, leading the way down a black-diamond bump run. At 56, Cordeau said, “I can still out-ski those kids,” an ability he attributes to being smooth on the bumps.

     “I use the ski to absorb the shock. It keeps my body from taking a beating.”

     And the love of the sport doesn’t hurt, either.

     “I live for it, basically,” Cordeau said.

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