After devastating injuries, Chris Hawks returns to the slopes as a coach | SummitDaily.com

After devastating injuries, Chris Hawks returns to the slopes as a coach

Chris Hawks (left center) was a competitive skier in Breckenridge during the '90s. After two knee injuries, he turned to coaching. The FreeRide team hits the slopes four to five times a week.

Even after blowing both of his knees as a young skier, Chris Hawks can't keep away from the slopes.

Hawks first moved to Breckenridge in 1993 to compete on Team Breckenridge doing mogul races. At the time, he said there wasn't a Freeride team. The New Jersey Native spent the '90s competing as a skier, winning gold at the X Games in the Triple Big Air in 1999.

Hawks' second injury happened at the Ford Ranger Freeride Series. The event had a step-up with 30-foot tall poles and a rope strung between them. Hawks said it was like pole vaulting, but with skis. There was no limit on how far back skiers could start, and as the day wore on, Hawks said skiers kept landing further and further down. The circumstances led to Hawks blowing-out his knee on the landing.

"I was so strong after blowing my first knee out," he said. "I just couldn't handle the impact. It never really came back 100 percent because I never stopped jumping on them."

But instead of leaving the sport, Hawks used his experience as a competitor to pay it forward, founding the Hawks Freeride team in 2001. The team started with seven local kids hitting the slopes seven days a week. In 2012, he partnered with Team Breckenridge Sports Club. He's now the director and head coach of the Freeride team. Since becoming a coach, Hawks has become an advocate for the safety of his team during competitions, saying that young skiers may not speak out.

"They're not going to say anything, like a young kid's not going to say 'I don't think that's safe,'" he said. "It's really good to have someone as a coach who's actually been there."

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The Freeride team features young athletes ages seven to 25. Hawks works with the team on runs based on the individual's skill level, but also teaches the skiers more general skills like how to ski for photo and video shoots as well as how to present themselves to potential sponsors and be a role model.

"If you want to be successful in the sport and be able to do it for a while, there's more to it than just being the best. You don't have to be the best." Hawks said.

Hawks also went on to judge Freeride competitions. He tries to bring in judges as well as competitors to talk with his team, in order to give them more perspective on what it takes to make it as a skier. Hawks said that skill isn't everything in a competition — sometimes it's purely about aesthetics.

"As a judge you kinda knew what they were looking for, but also visually what does it look like," he said. "I don't care how hard the trick is, does it look good or not?"

In the summers, and even occasionally between powder trips with the team, Hawks is a Colorado licensed plumber. But the slopes are where he dedicates most of his time, spending four to five days a week with the team. For him the opportunity is about giving back, and giving kids a role model.

"I still enjoy doing it too, I just have to be a little more selective on what I do," Hawks said. "I'm still doing all the big jumps and still spin everything and have a great time with the kids, and I think they have respect for that. That I still do it."