American-born local freeskier Sam Ward aspires for Olympics as member of British national team (podcast)
December 11, 2018
Sam Ward is a native-born United States citizen and World Cup freeskier who has lived about half of his life in Summit County and is the proud salutatorian of Frisco's Snowy Peaks High School 2018 graduating class.
Yet he's also an Olympic hopeful for Great Britain?
That's the current tale of the 18-year-old Silverthorne resident, who took 27th place of more than 40 freeskiers at last week's Toyota U.S. Grand Prix halfpipe competition at Copper Mountain Resort and is scheduled to compete in this coming weekend's Rev Tour event at Copper.
Stories of globetrotting and strategic approaches to find a spot on alternative national teams certainly isn't unheard of in the world of Olympic snowsports, but Ward's transition from U.S. National Team hopeful to an official British athlete is a unique journey with unexpected twists and turns along the way.
It starts in Summit County, where Ward and his family lived during his childhood before they relocated to Tahoe, California. In Tahoe, Ward trained and aspired to be a top-flight alpine ski racer before he broke his leg. The injury was a crossroads in his young career, as he chose to take up park and pipe freeskiing instead.
"My parents were tired of me hitting rails on my race skis," Ward said.
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As Ward grew older, he and his parents decided to move back to Summit County partially for the top-notch park and pipe facilities at Copper and Breckenridge Ski Resort. While improving his halfpipe, slopestyle and big air craft here, Ward ended up on the wrong side of the bubble in terms of being named to the U.S. team.
"In the U.S., it's such a prestigious thing to make it onto the U.S. team," Ward said. "And there are 200 freeskiers that are bashing heads to try to make it onto there. And, basically, going to all of the U.S. development camps, where they are trying to, basically, pick out athletes. I had gone to those for about three years and had been the first or second guy off the team for three years in a row."
Then, fewer than two years ago, Ward looked into a route other athletes had taken previously: to go through their family's heritage.
That led him to work with his father and uncle to see if his British-born father's roots in Great Britain could lead to an avenue on the British national park and pipe team known as "GB Sport."
LISTEN: Summit County based freeskier Sam Ward describes journey to compete for British national team, previews this week’s Dew Tour at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
So Ward's uncle researched if he Ward's father were eligible to have their offspring acquire British passports. They soon realized Ward's father was born within a 20-year span that allowed his son to get a British passport. They applied for one, and it was expedited in advance of last year's 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games.
"So, in about a two-week span," Ward said. "I went from being an American to a British-American."
During this process, Ward contacted the British team letting them know of his new British passport to put himself on their radar. The team then watched Ward through his competitions last season. By season's end, he was on-board, competing as a Brit at his first ever International Ski & Snowboard Federation event in Tignes, France. Copper's event last week was his second. Ward also competed in the British Championships late last year in Laax, Switzerland.
"Because there is no snow in the U.K.," he said.
The slopestyle finals at the British Championships ended up being Ward's best day ever on skis. Looking ahead, eight years into the British team's existence, Ward joins an up-and-coming bunch that has set a goal of becoming one of the world's top-five snowsports nations by 2030. Success to this point for Britain includes Billy Morgan's bronze medal run in snowboard big air at the 2018 Olympics as well as Park City, Utah-born Izzy Atkin's bronze medal in women's freeski slopestyle in Pyeongchang.
These days, some members of the British team are also based out of Summit County, including Atkin's younger sister Zoe, who currently lives with Ward and trains locally.
"They've been awesome welcoming us into their family," Ward said of the British team.
During his initial correspondence with the British team about a year and a half ago, Ward was asked what was his goal for switching. He replied his main goal is to represent Great Britain at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.
This newfound dream is certainly within the realm of possibility, as Ward will use this season to improve his skills in not only halfpipe, but in slopestyle and big air as well. In fact, there will be a week and a half span later this season when Ward will compete in all three disciplines at World Cup events. It's a schedule attempted by very few, including Telluride freeskier Gus Kenworthy and Estonian teen star Kelly Sildaru.
Ward may also prove to be a trendsetter when it comes to his schooling. He described himself as a kind of "guinea pig," at Snowy Peaks, where administrators crafted a schedule for him that would permit him to complete classes last December in time for him to devote the winter to freeskiing competitions.
With a 4.1 GPA last year, the move not only worked athletically, but academically as well. In fact, Evergreen-born up-and-coming snowboarder Jake Canter has followed in Ward's footsteps and is now an underclassmen student at Snowy Peaks. "I would give you an hour talking about how awesome Snowy Peaks is," Ward said.
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