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Educating the young hucksters

KEYSTONE – Pitching yourself up the lip of a halfpipe, contorting and inverting your body isn’t something you just do. It takes confidence, mental preparedness and, of course, practice.

But there’s always that first leap, that first drop and the haunting doubt that you’ll catch an edge, that it’s just too steep or you just aren’t prepared.

Or you ignore all those doubts. And then you get hurt.



To accommodate the growing number of teens interested in the freestyle aspects of skiing and snowboarding, as well as aging ski school students who just don’t find filing down the mountain following an instructor cool anymore, Keystone is testing a solution: the Keystone -pression Session.

Ski school coordinator Tony Macri, a nine-year veteran of Keystone’s school who also teaches in New Zealand, said the -pression Session courses come with a message for students and a message for their parents. To students, instructors stress “doing it the right way,” whether that means approaching a rail slide or conquering steeps. And to their parents, Macri said, “The kids are going to do it anyway, so let them learn to do it safely.”



Fueled by televised coverage of the -Games, the inclusion of snowboarding events in the Olympics and commercial advertising capitalizing on the radical nature of the sport, the popularity of freestyle skiing and riding has risen dramatically. Most major ski areas now feature terrain parks and halfpipes. Many are also building boarder- and skiercross courses.

With that rising popularity, unfortunately, come accidents and injuries. While helmet use is increasing among young polers and plankers and has helped reduce head injuries, other injuries are common to the “extreme” end of the sport.

“For beginners and younger riders, for example, they have a tendency to ride with their shoulders open (facing forward),” Macri said. “When they go off a jump, that brings their feet around underneath and before they know it, they catch their toe edge, fall forward and stick their hands out. You get a lot of wrist injuries that way.”

The instructors work with students on basic skills. In the halfpipe, they cover turning techniques and mastering the constant transition of the curve. In the park, students learn ollies, flat spins and how to deal with rails and boxes. Freeriders explore how turns change with terrain steepness, reading the fall line and navigating bumps.

The school focuses on three principles: Instructors urge students to look before they leap, instead of “hucking and hoping.” They teach students to “easy style it,” building up from small skills before going too big. Instructors also stress respect – that giving it gets it – and encourage students to behave appropriately from the liftline up and back down.

“There’s a lot of it that’s common sense, and then there’s more than that,” Macri said. “Projecting your momentum, for instance – a lot of kids don’t understand the physics of projecting up, which increases your height, or projecting out, which will help them clear a table-top. We try to get into all that.”

The program began the beginning of this month. Macri said about two groups of students a day have been taking advantage of the program. At $75 (and a $10 lift ticket), the program is about $10 cheaper than the regular ski school program.

Instructor Rhys Forsyth said the program is a good alternative for older kids. Forsyth said many teens get bored with ski school programs. The students in his class Tuesday were quickly changing their minds.

“It was really more of my parents’ idea to do this,” said Sarah Dorn, a 15-year-old from Witchita, Kan. “But it’s fun. We didn’t start out on easy stuff. He’s showing us how to ski the blacks.”

Nick Bjornson, 13, of Kansas City, Kan., and Nick Johnstone, 10, of Newport, R.I., were hoping to work on their tricks on rails and boxes. The two said they won’t be going back to normal ski school classes after the –

pressions experience.

Macri said he hopes to expand the pilot program into a regular offering next season. He hopes to attract teens locally and from Denver to participate and spread the word about park and freeriding safety.

The program also mirrors an effort by the National Ski Area Association (NSAA). The 2003 Terrain Park Safety Initiative, involving a partnership with Burton Snowboards, is the association’s education push that complements existing safety messages. The program is distributing signs, stickers and other materials at ski areas around the country espousing the same principles the Keystone program uses.


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