Coaching Big Mountain Skiing in British Columbia
“Dude, I got invited to the Championships at Revelstoke, so did Preston! Can we go? Can you go? My mom says I can only go if you go!”
I was on the phone with Jackson Chou, a 15-year-old big mountain skier whom I’ve coached at Alpine Meadows for the past three seasons.
“Yeah man, let’s send it.”
Shortly after the words escaped my mouth I began to feel pretty worried about how I would keep up with missing a week of classes. But it seemed like a great opportunity, and the kids deserved a chance to display their skills at the International Freeskiers Association (IFSA), North American Junior Championships for big mountain skiing.
On April 2, we flew north to Kelowna, British Columbia, and crossed through Canadian Customs. From Kelowna, we took a three-hour shuttle to the city of Revelstoke, where one can descend 5,620 vertical feet in one lift-serviced ski run, attend a yoga class, and sign up for a drop-in curling match all in one day.
In January 2012, I visited Revelstoke for the first time to compete in the Freeskiing World Tour Qualifier. I didn’t qualify, but I had the time of my life exploring the entirety of Revelstoke’s epic terrain. I couldn’t wait to return to the hidden pillow lines and endless fresh powder.
Apparently, endless fresh pow was a January thing; our first runs were on bullet proof ice. The groomers were a little disheartening, so we decided to cut to the chase and head over to the competition venue.
After a short traverse we ended up on top of North Bowl, a precarious zone with several pieces of severely exposed terrain. It would be the longest venue in the history of the Junior Championships at 1,500 vertical feet to the finish line. We called it a “leg burner.”
On the north facing venue we discovered snow that was remarkably “rippable.” It was cold, softish and chalky.
“You’re in luck boys,” I told my athletes.
I began to feel less concerned about missing school, as I was practicing concepts from my Interdisciplinary major in Outdoor Adventure Leadership and Journalism. Ski coaches focus on the obvious aspects of ski technique, but we are also risk managers, psychologists, motivational speakers and guides.
It’s a heavy responsibility to help a kid choose their line for a big mountain competition. They’ll be skiing at high speeds through chopped up terrain with rocks, cliffs and spines. They need to navigate through trees and ski confidently over blind rolls with no hesitation. Athletes use landmarks to memorize their line turn for turn and air for air. It’s not as simple as skiing around gates or through a terrain park.
My job is to help the athletes find the line that will showcase their own unique style to the judges with skiing that is relatively safe and smart. I also remind my athletes of the No. 1 rule, which is to have fun.
Thirteen-year-old Preston Hoff skied on day one in the younger age group. He ran 53rd out of 65 skiers. Unfortunately, the 52 skiers that went before Preston tore up the snow on his line, and exposed several new rocks. Preston caught a rogue mogul at high speed that bucked him off his feet. Preston spent the remainder of the day congratulating his friends at the finish line, and looking forward to next season.
And then the storm came. The older boys woke up to rain at the base of the mountain for their competition day. After ascending over a mile up gondolas and chairlifts, the rain turned to heavy snow, and the venue was closed for avalanche control.
When we were finally allowed to inspect the venue, we found deep heavy sludge, avalanche debris, and firm moguls all in one run, with greatly reduced visibility. In Outdoor Adventure Leadership, we refer to these type of situations as an opportunity to practice tolerance to adversity.
When it was Jackson’s turn to compete, I reminded him to enjoy himself and have fun.
“Hey man, this is a celebration run. You already made it to the Championships. You’re in Canada, this run is all about celebrating a great season, you’re going to crush it buddy!”
Jackson burst out of the start gate with cheers from all the athletes and coaches and proceeded to ski a solid run from top to bottom. It wasn’t enough to make the finals, but Jackson confessed he was more excited to have the freedom to ski powder than keep waiting around for more competition.
Overall, the week was an incredible success. A massive community of like minded skiers were brought together for one week to celebrate and progress big mountain skiing. Friends were made, mountains were explored, and insane skiing went down. I think the head judge of the competition, Jeff Holden said it best.
“These are life lessons disguised as a competition.”