Q&A with Peak Performers freestyle skiing runner-up Chris Hawks
Revered Team Breck coach chats moguls start, freestyle revolution, X Games gold
DILLON — For almost three decades, Chris Hawks has been a mainstay as an athlete and coach in Summit County’s freestyle ski community. Now the director and head coach for Team Breckenridge’s Freeride Team, Hawks finished as the runner-up in the freestyle skiing category of Peak Performers, a project honoring Summit County’s top skiing and snowboarding athletes.
Coming from more rural New Jersey, what is your ski origin story?
My father and brother, both Richard, were always into skiing. So they would drop me off at the nursery at Belleayre or Hunter mountains in New York. … Back then, all we knew was racing, so I grew up as a racer and one day, I was about 15 or 16, we were at Killington, and I saw these mogul skiers, and I was like, “Man, that’s what I want to do.”
What drew you to mogul skiing?
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The air. I graduated high school in 1991, so then I started competing in moguls skiing. … And the challenge was pretty cool. I was a skateboarder too, and I was skateboarding in New Jersey. So when we went up to ski, the mogul scene seemed cool. I skateboarded every day, we were the first ones in our town to do any of that stuff.
What was the freestyle scene in Breckenridge like back then when you moved here?
Well Breckenridge had the World Cups, so we got to see and ski with the best skiers in the world, ’cause we got to help make the courses for them. Back then, Breckenridge even had the aerial site. So we had like a 7-foot tall jump 40 feet away from the knoll, so it was kind of like a park jump. Back then, there weren’t terrain parks like now. And if there was, we weren’t allowed to go in it, cause it was snowboarding only. So, yeah, the moguls scene was the thing. Our coaches were on the pro mogul tour, still competing.
Tell me more about freestyle skiing’s evolution in the ’90s
What we’d do was, our mogul course was over on Peak 9. That’s where the terrain park was, on Gold King, and we just went in it anyway, not really knowing. I’d never really seen a rail. I wasn’t a rollerblader, but I’d seen skateboarding. And we’d try whatever and do 360s and things like that. And it was easier to hit those jumps than the mogul jumps, because back then, we’d have to land in the moguls. There wasn’t a nice spot to land. So you got dominated a lot.
How did freestyle skiing become the sport it became?
So we were mogul skiing, and it was regimented. You couldn’t do a 360 with your knees bent. And we started seeing Canadians doing tricks out on the wind lip in Whistler, and that’s the point right there where the sport changed, grabbing front flips and back flips and things.
As an X Games triple big air gold medalist in 1999, take us in a time capsule to the event back then.
It was definitely more of a freestyle for real. They had modified shovel racing as one of the contests. … Last place in 1998 was $700. So I was like, “I’ll do it.” It was going to take all month to make $700 working at City Market. … So when I showed up (in 1999) me being the moguls skier and a regular skier, not in the whole roller-blade scene, wasn’t that friendly. But I ended up winning (triple big air) because I landed and grabbed. Triple big air was three jumps in a row progressively bigger.
Connect the dots between the end of your career and your successful coaching career, now with Team Breck.
I started my first team in 2001, ’cause when I was working at City Market, parents had asked me — ’cause they knew I’d been in the X Games, I was bagging their groceries — “Hey, my son just broke his arm on 6 Chair doing a backflip. Do you have any kind of a program for something like that?” And I said, “Well, I could.” … So that’s how it started. I had seven kids from Summit High. Then it just grew from there.
What have you learned is the most important element of being a good coach?
The part that makes me the proudest, the coaches that I had when I was a kid, they were into it and gave everything to us, and that’s what I try to do with my guys: Show them everything about the sport and my passion for it. Cause I want these skiers to ski for the rest of their lives.
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