Olivero: With the help of Summit locals Chad Otterstrom & Lauren Weibert, Eric Andrew Cohen will join Weibert at Deaflympics | SummitDaily.com

Olivero: With the help of Summit locals Chad Otterstrom & Lauren Weibert, Eric Andrew Cohen will join Weibert at Deaflympics

Snowboarders Cohen, Weibert to represent Summit County at Italian games Dec. 12-21

Eric Andrew Cohen of Dillon Valley grabs his board during a run through a jump line in advance of representing the United States of America at this month's Deaflympics in Italy.
Courtesy Chad Otterstrom

FRISCO – Despite similarities in backstories, the actual journeys are always independent to different people. Eric Andrew Cohen of Dillon Valley reminded me of this on Sunday.

Cohen came by our Frisco office to chat about competing at the Deaflympics in Valtellina, Italy, north of Milan, Dec. 12-21. We soon made a connection about our hometowns, as Cohen rolled up his sleeve to show a tattoo of the New York City skyline. It turns out Cohen grew up in Essex County, New Jersey, a place I was familiar with writing about high school sports.

We bonded over the talent of Seton Hall Prep’s lacrosse and basketball teams and East Orange’s football team. For a pair of guys living at 9,000 feet, we had an awful lot in common, including memories of Alan Houston’s shot to send the New York Knicks past the Miami Heat in the 1999 NBA Playoffs and bringing Pepsi cans to the Shea Stadium outfield to gain free admission to New York Mets baseball games.

Cohen explained he grew up a skier, his family taking him on trips to Stratton, Vermont, and Canada from the age of 3. Then, at 6, he saw something that blew his mind: Snowboarders hitting the halfpipe at the base of Stratton Mountain Resort. For the next two years he badgered his mom to let him try snowboarding, before she finally relented to letting Cohen slide down a hill sideways.

“And that’s when I fell in love with snowboarding,” Cohen, now 34, said.

From there Cohen, who was born deaf, taught himself snowboarding at Stratton or New Jerseyites’ local mountain, Mountain Creek Resort. He’d spend days on the hill watching better snowboarders execute tricks in the park. At night, he’d watch snowboard films and flip through magazines featuring his generation’s favorite pro riders, the likes of Ross Powers, JP Walker, Jeremy Jones and others.

“I was the kind of guy,” Cohen said, “I’d watch a movie in slow motion to watch how they do it off the jumps, off the halfpipe, how they move, how they do the transition. And then, rewind, slow mo, pause, and rewind again.”

Like so many other Summit County locals, Cohen’s journey led him to want to move to the mountains of Colorado. But that’s where the similarity of his story with so many of the rest of ours ends.

The refreshing thing about Cohen is he was up-front and candid about the struggles and tough times off the snow that set the stage for him to be motivated to improve his snowboarding enough to earn a spot on the 2019 United States Deaf Snowboarding Deaflympic Team. Cohen explained how around 2013 and 2014 he hit rock bottom personally not long after moving here to Summit County.

The downward spiral in his personal life resulted in a DUI charge that put him on probation and depressed him further. He described it as a dark hole where he, to a great degree, lost his love for snowboarding. Cohen’s probation situation lasted until September 2017 and prevented him from achieving his dream of representing the United States at international competitions, such as the 2015 Deaflympics.

Eric said he began to get back on track toward the end of the winter of 2015. Over the past three winters, he said it’s his love for snowboarding and his drive to represent the U.S. and Summit County at the Deaflympics that has driven him to lead a better life and get better as a snowboarder. Getting out on the hill and sweating has been the best antidepressant he could ever ask for.

Along the way, Eric credits the other Summit County local who’ll compete at the 2019 Deaflympics, Lauren Weibert of Breckenridge, with helping him to reach his full potential. Back in 2015 when Eric struggled with depression, Weibert won gold in slopestyle and silver in boardercross at the 2015 Deaflympics in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. She hopes to contend for medals in those disciplines as well as big air in Italy.

Within the deaf snowboarding community, Weibert, 31, is an athlete younger riders look up to, including the campers she’s taught in Aspen.

“I strive to be a good role model for deaf youth,” Weibert said. “It’s important for them to know that deaf people are capable of great things too.”

Cohen said over the past year he’s connected more with Weibert. There aren’t a lot of deaf people here in Summit County, he said, so it was only a matter of time until he’d connect with Weibert at a mutual riding spot, such as Woodward Copper’s parks at Copper Mountain Resort. Cohen earned his way onto the U.S. Deaflympic six-rider snowboard roster thanks to podium placings at Keystone Resort and Copper Mountain Resort last winter, including a third-place in the men’s master 30-39 slopestyle competition at United States Amateur Snowboard Association Nationals last April.

Over the past year, Cohen said Weibert and her friend Chad Otterstrom of Breckenridge have helped him to become a better snowboarder. Otterstrom is a longtime local and accomplished pro park rider and backcountry snowboarder many locals look up to. Cohen said Otterstrom has helped Cohen to be able to ride Academy snowboards at the Deaflympics. He’s also shared words of wisdom from decades on the hill and in the comp scene.

“’Learning something new, small every day,’” Cohen said Otterstrom told him.

In recent weeks, Cohen said he’s been dialing in his biggest tricks, such as backflips and rodeos, at the foam pit at Woodward Copper and Copper Mountain Resort, Weibert’s favorite spot to ride in the county. Next weekend the duo will fly together to Frankfurt, Germany, before connecting to Milan and making the drive up into the Italian mountains where they each will compete in slopestyle, big air and boardercross.

For a snowboarder who never had a real coach, Cohen said the help Weibert and Otterstrom have provided is the closest thing to coaching he’s ever gotten. It’s helping him to sharpen his riding to hopefully land some of his bigger tricks, such as a rodeo 720, in Italy.

Whatever happens, he’s grateful to Otterstrom, Weibert and the Summit County snowboarding community. For without it, he’s not sure where he’d be.

“Snowboarding is my savior,” he said. “This is like redemption.”

Weibert echoes those sentiments.

“Snowboarding is why I live here,” she said. “ It’s my happy place, my escape, my solace.”

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