Freeskiers and snowboarders ages 5 to 75 will take over Copper Mountain Resort starting Saturday, March 29, as the U.S.A. Snowboard and Freeski Association National Championships returns for its 25th year — and seventh consecutive year at Copper.
“We have a great relationship with USASA and we’re happy to host it for them,” Copper Mountain spokeswoman Stephanie Sweeney said.
Over 1,600 athletes from across the country are expected to participate in the various freeskiing and snowboarding disciplines, including slopestyle, halfpipe and boardercross.
“It’s a really cool thing to watch,” said Sweeney. “You see all levels.”
From 5-year-olds just starting to find their ‘air awareness’ to seasoned amateurs on the cusp of going pro, USASA has it all, Rocky Mountain Division director Paul Krahulec said.
The competition is divided into age brackets, and there’s a non-age-restricted open-class for the top competitors.
“Open division is the existing and up-and-coming pros,” Krahulec said. “It’s a good pathway. We are the grassroots of snowboarding and freeskiing.”
Past USASA competitors include a number of this year’s winter Olympians. Slopestyle skiing silver medalist Gus Kenworthy, bronze medalist Nick Goepper, women’s halfpipe gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington and snowboarder Taylor Gold all are past USASA competitors.
“It is the pinnacle in the stepping stones into the professional world,” Krahulec said describing USASA-level competition.
Since its inception, USASA has grown from a snowboard-only organization to include freeskiing, which Krahulec said continues to expand.
“The skiers are the largest growth group within the organization,” he said. “I imagine that will increase.”
But as much as nationals is about competition, Krahulec emphasized that the competition is also about having the opportunity to meet and ride with like-minded athletes of all ages and skill levels from around the country.
“It’s not about who you beat, it’s about who you meet.”
The two-week event will include a number of activities and group sessions outside of the competition; athletes will have a chance to get to know and practice with one another.
A number of athletes are already at Copper acclimating to the altitude, Krahulec said.
“It’s a big move for a lot of kids. A lot come from below 1,000 feet.”
In recent years USASA competition — much like its pro-level counterparts — has continued to progress with ever younger athletes trying bigger and bigger tricks. Krahulec said it’s a credit to the growth of club programs and indoor training facilities like Woodward at Copper — where athletes can practice tricks on trampolines and ramps and land in foam pits.
“Woodward and all the other training facilities have been huge in the progression of the sport,” he said. “When you can land it in a foam pit, you are ready to land it in snow. That’s the reason that people are able to advance, because the training facilities are so advanced.”
Nationals start this weekend for snowboarding, followed by freeskiing the following week, starting April 5.