52-year-old Breckenridge skier ranked on the Freeride World Qualifier circuit hopes to help grow the sport
Breckenridge resident John Spencer may be the oldest guy on the Freeride World Qualifier circuit, but that doesn’t pose a challenge for him.
Instead, the 52-year-old has steadily worked himself up the ranks, landing at 45th overall after the competition season last year.
The Freeride World Qualifiers feed into the 18-rider Freeride World Tour, where the world’s best freeride skiers and snowboarders compete on some of the biggest, most jagged mountains in the world.
Spencer got into the sport close to 11 years ago and has lived in the area for the past 30 years. Spencer has skied since he was a kid back in Michigan, but it was when he moved to Colorado that he started to stack 100-day seasons.
Along the way, Spencer has grown as a skier, learned how to compete at his highest level and even worked his way out of alcoholism.
“Thirteen years ago, I quit drinking, and as an amends to myself, I kind of deiced to do some (races) and reach some of my goals,” Spencer said.
Back when Spencer started competing in freeride competitions, they were sprinkled around the country, but in the past few years, the sport has really evolved, he said.
Now, the competitions are organized into what is recognized as the Freeride World Qualifiers.
Spencer said he started off the 2021 competition season with a poor performance in Grand Targhee, Wyoming, placing 32nd.
“I did not have a good event. There was a bunch of stuff that happened,” Spencer said. “There was a lot of extracurricular mind stuff going on.”
Spencer got his mind right and rebounded: At the next competitions in Breckenridge and Crested Butte, he placed in the top 10 among some of the best freeriders in the region.
“Something just clicked,” Spencer said. “That was my first top-10 finish, and that was one of my goals initially when I set out to do this stuff. I was really excited to reach that goal.”
With the two, top-10 finishes, Spencer was able to end the season ranked in the top 50 among U.S. athletes, with most competitors being a couple of decades younger than him.
“He’s sober and so full of life now,” longtime friend Greta Schoonover wrote in an email about Spencer’s freeriding success. “’It’s never too late to live your dreams,’ he says about his ski competing. You can see it in his skiing … passion and dedication, which has made him a phenomenal skier.”
Spencer hopes to rank higher after this competition year, but contrary to other freeride skiers, his sights are not set on making the Freeride World Tour. Spencer’s aspirations gravitate around competing well and growing the sport of freeriding, saying he wants to inspire others to pursue the sport he fell in love with.
Spencer wants the sport to gain more exposure so young kids gravitate to it and continue to evolve the sport, like Spencer has seen before his eyes over the past 11 years.
“There sure are a lot of cool things surrounding these events,” Spencer said. “It doesn’t get a lot of marketed attention from any of the ski areas, and we all kind of joke about it.”
Spencer said Breckenridge Ski Resort traditionally doesn’t publicize any of its freeride events even though he thinks people would be interested in watching the competition take place on Peak 6.
Spencer figures if the sport seems appealing enough to young athletes that the sport is bound to explode to a whole new level within the next five to 10 years.
He also hopes that what he is doing at age 52 on the Freeride World Qualifier circuit expands the interest in the sport.
“As more and more people go through the sport, I think people are going to want to compete when they are older,” Spencer said.
Spencer will continue to train throughout the next few weeks before getting the 2022 freeride season going Feb. 4-6 at Copper Mountain Resort. The first competition will act as a rust buster before Spencer competes at Snowbird, Utah, on Feb. 23.
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