If there’s one thing that seems to be clear after a week-long freeskiing competition at the 2014 USA Snowboard and Freeski Association (USASA) Nationals at Copper Mountain Resort, it’s that the future of the sport is in good hands. In fact, this year’s Olympians may have some steep competition nipping at their heels come 2018.
“It was really amazing to see the talent that was coming up,” USASA spokeswoman Jennifer Langille said Wednesday. “The 13- to 15-year-old age bracket was killing it. Some of their runs were more complex and intricate than the open class. It was kind of mind blowing to be honest. It was really, really impressive.”
For aspiring amateurs like 13-year-old Jaxin Hoerter of Breckenridge, the annual competition is a platform to showcase their talents in hopes of making it to the next level.
Hoerter took first in the 13- to 15-year-old age group and plans to move on to the open class next year.
“USASA means a lot to me. It’s something I do to make my mom and dad proud,” he said. “It’s a gateway to being a professional.”
The competition is now an Association of Freesking Professionals (AFP) sanctioned event and has been a jumping off point for a number of big name Olympic and X Games level competitors, including recent Olympic gold medalist Maddie Bowman. She was on hand all week letting the winners in each age group try on her gold medal.
“It was really cool,” Hoerter said of the opportunity to meet Bowman, “because she is pretty much what I want to become. I want to be at the Olympics, X Games, Dew Tour — everything.”
And now with his second top finish at nationals — he finished first last year in the 10 to 12 group — as well as a recent top finish in his age group at the Breckenridge Big Mountain Challenge, he would seem to be on his way.
“He throws big, for a little kid he’s the real deal,” USASA Rocky Mountain Series director Paul Krahulec said of Hoerter.
Of the win, Hoerter said, “It feels really good. Everybody was like, ‘Ooo, that young kid did that?’”
His winning run, which he described as his “C run” — not his best from a trick standpoint— included two consecutive corked 900s — two and a half rotations above the halfpipe.
Krahulec described this year’s competition — which includes competitors age 5 to older than 60 — as another huge success that showed the continued growth of the skiing discipline.
He said the level of competition continues to improve every year.
“They just huck it and make it look effortless.”
Krahulec also added that freeskiing continues to be the fastest growing competitive discipline in winter sports. In the USASA Rocky Mountain region alone he’s seen the number of competitors double in the last year.
In addition to Bowman, USASA has produced a host of Olympians and X Games athletes, including fellow Sochi medalists Joss Christensen (gold) Gus Kenworthy (silver) and Nick Goepper (bronze).
“For me, I’m pretty pumped to see all those kids there,” Krahulec said. “They turned their dreams into a career.”
Vail freeskier Broby Leeds was took top honors in the open division halfpipe competition. Bowman’s brother Alec finished eighth.