Strength coach describes journey to build Chris Corning’s body for big air
Silverthorne snowboarder to drop into big air elimination Friday, 1:30 p.m.
ASPEN — In all his years working with elite athletes, including NFL and NHL players, Nathan Henry hadn’t experienced what he went through at X Games Aspen this time last year.
Standing beside U.S. Snowboard coaches under the lights in the cold at Buttermilk Ski Area, the nerves overtook Henry. For him this was a situation where one of his athletes, snowboarder Chris Corning, was in a situation similar to a UFC fighter. For Henry, staring down the 300-foot-long run-in and 80-foot jump was like stepping foot in the octagon, closing the cage door behind you and staring across the canvas at a rabid opponent.
There’s another extreme sports analogy Henry compared it to, something with more of an Evel Knievel feel.
“When we are working on him, it’s like a Formula One race car and launching it off this jump. It’s watching and hoping he can land it,” said Henry, who’s now the Director of Athlete Development for Dallas Stars Elite Hockey, the youth development program for the Dallas Stars NHL franchise.
In the end, last year’s X Games big air final didn’t turn out how Henry and Corning hoped. Corning aggravated one of the major injuries he and Henry worked doggedly the summer before to heal: a Lisfranc fracture to his left foot. It was the latest health hiccup in a young career for the 20-year-old Silverthorne resident that has been marked by setbacks.
That’s where Henry comes in. In the summer of 2018, Corning drove several days a week to work with Henry, then a coach for Landow Performance in Centennial. It was the first time Henry worked with a snowboarder. But the coach soon learned Corning isn’t just any other snowboarder. His attention to detail is obsessive. His drive to be his best is rabid. And his athleticism, despite the foot injury and a hobbled back and hip, was alarmingly elite.
“The first time I had him on the ladder,” Henry said. “I was like, ‘holy cow, this guy could have been a running back.’ A little undersized for the NFL, or something like that, but from an athletic standpoint I don’t know if it was anything he couldn’t do.”
An Arvada little-league football stud, Corning eventually chose snowboarding, which has turned out well for him — he’s earned back-to-back FIS Crystal Globe season titles for overall park-and-pipe snowboarding. Still, Corning has yet to win an X Games Aspen medal, a goal he’ll work toward Friday at the men’s snowboard big air elimination round (1:30 p.m., X Games YouTube). If he’s one of the five to advance from the 25-minute jam format, Corning will compete in Saturday’s primetime final (8 p.m., ESPN).
The X Games big air jam format is a beast: a 25-minute jump-till-you-drop endurance fest that asks an athlete like Corning to push his body to its limits over and over. With that in mind, Henry’s main focus with Corning has been to build his “trunk,” as Henry puts it, for the unnatural physics of loading up to huck a rotation and, perhaps more importantly, being able to stop a stuntman-like spin on a dime. The coach worked more on Corning’s trunk than any athlete before.
For a coach like Henry, the trunk is the core muscles that make everything go in terms of stability and range of motion. The summer of 2018 was about building up strength for Corning to weather the season. This past summer was more about polishing the strength and muscular endurance he generated the summer prior, said Henry. That meant high-volume work early in summer and more maximal-strength work mid-summer before peaking him before the end of summer when Corning’s big air season got underway in New Zealand.
In the fall, Henry took his new job with the Stars. Despite that move, Henry and Corning still keep in touch, now more as friends than their past coach-pupil relationship. Last month, Henry soaked in the glory of Corning’s win at the Visa Big Air in Atlanta, where he landed his trademark quad-cork 1800. The trick is on the boundary of how far snowboarding — and possibly the human body — can go, with four inversions and five 360-degree rotations.
It was a crowning moment for Corning.
The Silverthorne resident hopes for another this weekend in Aspen.
Thursday’s results made it a bit tougher. Corning failed to qualify through to the slopestyle final after tweaking his knee following an awkward landing on a flat portion of the course. For a moment, it seemed Corning’s X Games demons had returned. But he rode to the bottom of the course before embracing his girlfriend, elite motocross racer Shannatay Bergeron of Vail. He told her was heading to the top of the course to give it one more run. After the competition, he said he would be good to do big air Friday.
Regardless of the results over the weekend, Henry said what really sets Corning apart is between the ears. Along with the foot speed of an elite running back, he has the psyche of a Super Bowl champion.
“I haven’t met anyone that is more committed than he is,” Henry said.
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