Young guns blur the lines
There is a freeskiing surge among the youth ranks nationwide that blurs the lines between adult and junior freeskiing. This past weekend at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, young guns ages 12 to 18 put on a three-day show ripping down Hawks Nest and the Headwall, boosting big airs and charging through the “shark”-infested terrain without hesitation.
Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team (CBMST) coach Will Dujardin credits several reasons for the rise in talent at such a young age. He believes that with the coaching available and the way IFSA junior freeskiing events are structured, allowing the young skiers inspection runs, they can develop a better skill set earlier and have time to dissect their run more closely.
“The juniors definitely blur the lines pretty much because most of them have been training in the freeride discipline,” says Dujardin. “Confidence meets drive and the kids really go for it.”
In the end, seven local athletes finished in the top ten throughout the different age classes and disciplines, with two skiers and one snowboarder stepping onto the podium at the IFSA Nationals March 6-8. Brittany Barefield and Emma “M&M” Patterson led the local contingent, finishing in first and second, respectively, in the girls 15- to 18-year-old class.
The competition opened with two days of qualifier rounds on Hawks Nest Friday and Saturday with nearly 150 athletes all vying for spots in the finals in the two age classes. By the time the two days wrapped up, the field was cut in half across the board, with 77 athletes advancing to the finals day on Sunday, March 8 on the Headwall.
The Headwall provided a perfect venue for the young skiers and snowboarders, with plenty of options to tip into some rocky technical lines or open it up for high-speed turns and big air options.
The 12- to 14-year-old groups set the tone from the get-go with several of the young skiers and snowboarders negotiating their way straight down the main gut of the Headwall without hesitation.
So much so that at one point event emcee and former competitor Ben Somrak commented, “I’m glad I’m not competing in the girls 12- to 14-year-old age class.”
CBMST snowboarder Dagan Schwartz and independent skier Avery Bernholtz led the local charge in the 12- to 14-year-old age group. Schwartz won the boys snowboard class and Bernholtz placed third in the skier girls’ category. It was her third trip in a row to the podium after taking second in Winter Park and third in Taos at competitions earlier this winter. Jonclay Patterson was the top boys 12- to 14-year-old skier from CBMST, placing fourth in his division.
Once the event turned over to the 15- to 18-year-old athletes, event organizers and the Crested Butte Professional Ski Patrol dropped the rope on Angle Gully and gave the older athletes an opportunity to test their limits in the technical no-fall zone.
Barefield and Emma Patterson were the only two girls to drop into the Angle Gully and the decision, with their skiing, made all of the difference.
Barefield was in sixth place heading into her final run but after making quick and controlled turns through Angle Gully and sticking her exit air she scored the highest score of the day among her peers to win. Patterson started the day in fourth place but followed suit into the Angle Gully for the second highest score of the day and finished the weekend in second place overall.
“You could see that, in their case, the line score totally mattered,” says Dujardin. “The line score was key as the basis for the rest of their scores.”
The 15- to 18-year-old boys were a bit more unrestrained, to say the least. Thirty-seven boys qualified for the finals with just five points separating 37th place from first place.
Given the scoring bottleneck, numerous young skiers decided it would require fast turns and big airs to reach the podium. As a result, several skiers fell victim to their hubris, charging below Rabbit Ears, lining up airs off Box Rock only to crash over and over again. Twelve of the first 25 skiers suffered some type of lapse, from a minor hip check to a massive cartwheeling tumble.
“Box Rock floats pretty easy in a way but people tend to underestimate the landing,” says Dujardin.