Ahead of Beijing 2022, Summit pros share advice for kids to chase their own Olympic dreams
As a mountain town kid, Jaxin Hoerter didn’t have to go down a YouTube rabbit hole to see the best, biggest and brightest of the freeski and snowboard world. All he had to do was go out for a few laps at his hometown Breckenridge Ski Resort to be right in the thick of the community of riders and rippers who put the United States at the forefront of the 21st century’s most popular Olympic sports: snowboarding and freeskiing.
Even before Hoerter, now a 21-year-old member of the U.S. Freeski Halfpipe Pro Team, dropped into the 22-foot superpipe at Breckenridge at 11 years old, he had the collection of neighborhood pros and bevy of visiting international stars to looks up to.
“Growing up, I didn’t really ride the pipe at that point, but I was riding Breck consistently every year, every day,” Hoerter said. “And the notable figure I saw out there every day was Bobby Brown. To this day, we say ‘hi’ when we see each other. Back then, I’d see Bobby ride and take a few laps with him. It’s one of those meet-and-ski with an idol kind of things. And it gave me a sense of, ‘I can do this, too,’ type thing. And it blossomed from there.”
Hoerter has followed in the ski tracks of the three-time X Games gold medalist Brown, who was a member of the first U.S. Freeski Team to compete in halfpipe and slopestyle skiing in 2014 at the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.
At the time, Hoerter was a 13-year-old breaking into the Breckenridge halfpipe scene.
Now, Hoerter is one of nine members of the country’s halfpipe pro team vying for a spot to represent the red, white and blue at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in China from Feb. 4-20.
“To make the Olympics, it would mean — it’s a milestone that I’ve been progressing to for as long as I can remember,” Hoerter said. “Just making it would kind of prove to myself, ‘I’ve made it,’ type thing. All that hard work, all those days on the hill meant something.”
When Hoerter was a kid, Breckenridge was the center of the snowboard and freeski community and its progression. Now, Copper Mountain Resort has become the unquestioned, unrivaled home for wide-eyed kids and elite pros to train, compete and chase the Olympic dream.
In early October, just a day before he was set to fly out to Saas-Fee, Switzerland, to join the U.S. Snowboard Team for preseason training on a glacier in the Alps, Chase Blackwell put in perspective just how ideal Woodward Copper’s resources are to chase the Olympic dream. Blackwell, a 22-year-old Longmont native who lives in Dillon, said Woodward Copper has gone all-out on its facilities for action sports athletes in recent years.
When Blackwell was younger, he and other U.S. snowboarders like 2018 Olympic gold medalist Red Gerard and 2019 world champion Chris Corning had the Woodward Copper barn to progress their skills. Inside the off-snow facility, Blackwell and other young kids could try sending new tricks into the foam pit and get creative on trampolines.
Woodward Copper has so much more for the kids following in the snowboard boot prints of Blackwell just a few years later. On the hill is a new concept dubbed Woodward Mountain Park, which is in its third winter this season.
Blackwell said Woodward Mountain Park is perfect for a kid to chase their Olympic dreams because it allows beginners to take one step after another from hitting a flat box in a beginner park, to trying tricks in the 13-foot intro halfpipe, to eventually sending airs like Blackwell in the massive 22-foot superpipe just above Copper’s Center Village — the home of the December U.S. Grand Prix Olympic qualifier and Dew Tour.
“Before all of this, there was just an upper large (jump) line and a small jump line,” Blackwell said. “So when I was younger, you just had to step up to the plate and figure it out. It scared you a lot more. But now, kids can progress faster and do little baby steps, and they’re not scared of the trick the whole way.”
One of the core elements of Woodward Copper’s Woodward Mountain Park collection of progressive areas to learn is Red’s Backyard. The hike-up rail garden is at the base of the superpipe in Center Village and gives young skiers and riders the chance to improve their rail skills for free.
The park was the idea of Gerard, an Olympic, Dew Tour and Burton Open slopestyle champion. Along with his snowboard-loving family, the Silverthorne local came up with the idea to bring the rail garden to Copper as a way to help skiers and riders of all abilities and backgrounds get on snow without the cost of a lift ticket.
When Gerard was a kid, he chased his older brothers Malachi, Brendan and Trevor around the family’s homemade backyard terrain park. Along the way, Gerard’s passion for the sport he learned from his brothers blossomed him into an ambitious, intrepid rider who was signed as a pro ahead of winning the Olympics at age 17.
But Gerard knows not everyone has the same opportunities he had. So he brought the closest thing to a free neighborhood skatepark he could to the Copper snow.
“I am so psyched it’s free,” Gerard said at the rail garden’s opening day in December 2019. “To me, it’s a really, really cool thing. I know it was either going to be 10 bucks or 20 bucks or something, which is really nothing. But just for it to be free is awesome, I think, and hopefully it puts a good example out there.”
Gerard is vying to represent the U.S. again this winter, along with several other faces familiar to Summit County, including fellow Silverthorne slopestyle rider Chris Corning. As a young kid, before his family moved to Silverthorne, the 22-year-old Corning would trek up to the mountains to take advantage of any terrain park he could. Like so many other aspiring Olympians, he transitioned to online school to get more time on jumps and rails. Corning loved snowboarding so much that he attended online school 365 days a year for two years so he could graduate high school early at age 16.
With that approach, Corning opened up so many opportunities, leading to him representing the U.S. in big air and slopestyle in Pyeongchang, South Korea, finishing just one spot out of medal position in the Olympics’ inaugural big air event.
Corning said his main advice for young skiers and riders in Summit County, aside from taking advantage of the local facilities and resources, is to always remember to do stuff “with people that are better than you.”
“And do lots of different things,” he said. “Don’t put yourself into a box. Don’t set a goal of, ‘I only want to do this, and I’ll be here in five years.’ The world is becoming so much different than it used to be. It’s more fluid. Try to be good at so many different things. It’ll help so much on your specific sport you may want to go pro in, if you want to go to the Olympics or whatever. And it’s fun and makes progression so much easier.”
Local club teams and flexible schooling options also open up opportunities for local kids in Summit to chase their Olympic dreams. While Hoerter grew up plying his craft with coach Chris Hawks and Hawks Free Ride, Team Summit has become the preeminent club. And many Team Summit athletes take advantage of flexible schooling options at various schools, including in Summit School District and at The Peak School.
“I’ve heard lots of great things about the high school and how they’ve worked with winter sports athletes getting them out early or taking a day off here and there,” Blackwell said. “Summit County is around it a lot more. They are more willing and open to help out athletes.”
Even if you aren’t getting into the sports at a young age, Summit County is a place where you can become a part of the community and see what manifests from there. Breckenridge resident Keri Herman is the perfect example: The 2014 Sochi Olympic freeskier used the uniqueness of the community to progress her skills after picking up the sport at age 21.
Herman said that when she was on her come-up, 15-20 years ago, Breckenridge was the mecca like Copper is now. And back before the days of cellphones, Herman was happy to have time away from the classic Summit County ski bum jobs to hit up the park at Breckenridge and see who else happened to show up.
The more and more she stacked up Summit County days like that, the more the childhood hockey player in Herman grew her skills. And before she knew it, she was winning contests, earning sponsorships and walking around the Russian Olympic stadium waving a U.S. flag.
If you want that moment to come to fruition for yourself, here’s some final advice from the Olympians:
Blackwell said to stay positive and seek out the Summit community not only on the hill but also off it, as becoming close with like-minded people is crucial to harvesting a love for the sport. Hoerter said to make sure to go at your own pace, no matter how appealing the 22-foot superpipe looks. And Herman said to set small goals and to visualize everything. Once you learn how to visualize a halfpipe or slopestyle run in your mind, Herman said, that’s half the battle.
And in the end, though Summit may possess the facilities and resources to harbor a child’s Olympic dream, there’s another variable all these athletes said makes this place such an ideal incubator for Team USA: the people.
“It was the atmosphere,” Herman said about what made Breckenridge special. “Everyone was encouraging of each other. There was a positive attitude at all times. It’s such a cool thing to have a community so oriented with progression. Everyone was working hard. We were working a couple of jobs and sharing rooms, splitting rent with somebody just to ski.
“All we wanted to do was ski.”
This story previously published in the winter 2021-22 edition of Explore Breckenridge & Summit County magazine.
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