All hail Los Gauchos: Argentine synchronized snowboarding team takes on skiers in Aspen
April 14, 2017
Seth Johns has a solid understanding of the Spanish language, and will use it when need be. Otherwise, he prefers to stick to his native tongue when conversing with the seven Argentine snowboarders who now call him coach.
"I speak English so I can be very clear and concise in my verbiage. And so they have to stop arguing and bickering and pay attention to what I'm saying," Johns said. "But it is very nice to be able to speak to them in their native tongue and they understand the majority of what I'm saying. When you are bridging cultural gaps, being able to speak the language is great."
Johns is coaching "Los Gauchos," one of 14 teams that competed last weekend (April 7-9) in the 2017 Aspen World Synchro Championships on Aspen Mountain. The team is comprised entirely of Argentinians who all are snowboard instructors at Snowmass. They were the only snowboard team competing in the skier-heavy competition.
"I'm nervous. It's the first time I'm competing or participating in a competition like this with teams from everywhere," said Ines van der Heyden, the lone female on the team, in an interview with the Aspen Times just days before the competition. "Just to make the figure look good. We are not trying to win anything. It's weird because we are the only snowboard team so I'm not sure how the judges are going to do it."
South to north to synchro
Some of the riders knew each other from Argentina, while others met here in Aspen. Most have worked at Snowmass for multiple winters and return to Argentina during the summer, or South America's winter. This is the first time they've come together as a team, the idea coming from having watched "Argenteam," a group of Argentinian skiers who have competed in the Aspen synchro competition for the last few seasons.
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"When we saw the skiers doing that, we got inspired," said team member Felipe de la Fuente, who has spent seven seasons in Aspen. "This is about synchro, so no matter how good you are, the only thing that matters is if you go synchronizing. We are discovering so much about snowboarding."
It was rough at first for Los Gauchos, which jumped into training earlier this winter with little-to-no background in synchronized competition and no one to show them the way. A major breakthrough came when they approached Johns, who has long been the overall snowboard lead trainer for Aspen Snowmass and is currently a professional snowboarder, to coach them.
Johns has spent a handful of winters in South America, including Argentina, part of the reason Los Gauchos wanted him on their side.
"We are entering into a skier's realm and a skier's world and we want to see what we can do. It's getting me outside of my comfort zone, outside of my realm of normality, and I really enjoy that," Johns said. "It's been really great to see them come together, see them fight and bicker, see them make amends and see them move forward as a team."
Johns, a native of Idaho who has more of a background in park and big-mountain riding, does have exposure to synchronized competition from his training days in Argentina. But even he admitted he was stepping into the unknown with Los Gauchos.
A skier's domain
Last weekend's synchronized competition in Aspen, which also included racing and bumps aspects, is very much a skier's domain. The snowboard team had to overcome many hurdles, with a couple having to ride switch, and all having to learn to turn and maneuver in tight quarters despite having a blind side skiers don't have to deal with.
But Los Gauchos have faced these hurdles head on, training most days before going to instruct in Snowmass, and often studying video at night to analyze their weaknesses.
"Being the only snowboard team involved is kind of an honor and a burden at the same time," Johns said. "They want to see clean patterns, they want to see speed, they want to see accuracy, they want to see rhythm and timing. As snowboarders, we approach it slightly different. We want to represent our sport, our passion, and we want to be able to represent that within the ski culture."
Los Gauchos held no real dream of winning the competition against the more veteran teams. But they were already eyeing a return to Aspen next winter, when they hope to be more polished and understanding of the elements. They also hope to inspire more snowboard teams to get involved.
"Everyone is supporting us, so we are very happy about that," de la Fuente said. "We want to really do a nice performance. That's why we were training really hard. I think next year more teams are going to join us, because it's really, really fun. It's really interesting. We are learning a lot of each other."
The team sported the same all-black clothing and rode on similar Jones snowboards, loaned to them by Four Mountain Sports/D&E. The rest of Los Gauchos included Juan Boracchia, Brian Horecky, Tadeo Leslie, Alberto Vila and Gonzalo Saldanio.
Los Gauchos held no hopes of taking the top spot, but the crew also didn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. The team took 12 out of 14 competitors at the event, beating Team Beavo and Aspen Team Diva-Lution. The winners: Argenteam, the same skiers who inspired Los Gauchos to bring snowboards to the synchro ski show
"These guys have been working hard all season, training, trying to get people involved. They are excited to compete," Johns said of his team. "We can help shape how the skiers see us and being part of their world every now and then I think is good for both sports."
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