One year after concussion on halfpipe, Breckenridge’s Mawn wins North American big mountain title
What to do if you’re a snowboarder come summertime? If you’re Michael Mawn of Breckenridge, you grab your surfboard and head down to the South Platte River and Clear Creek near Golden to do a bit of river surfing.
“And in the spring I’ll actually go snowboarding in the morning and come down and river surf in the afternoon, which is awesome,” Mawn said.
For 18-year-old Mawn, river surfing is a way to keep his legs strong in the offseason while also feeding his thirst for the kind of turns he tries to bring to the snow during the winter. And when he is out there on powder at the resort or in the backcountry, the Virginia-native does try to bring his own style to his riding.
These days, his creative ability to connect features on natural big mountain terrain has him qualified to represent the United States at next year’s International Freeski & Snowboard Association Junior Freeride Championships in Kappl, Austria.
Even more impressive, Mawn qualified for the event after only his first season competing in big mountain — also known as freeriding. Mawn transitioned to the sport — which requires snowboarders to traverse a course and connect tricks on un-groomed, steep, naural mountain terrain — after he suffered a traumatic brain injury on the Copper Mountain Resort halfpipe in April of 2017.
After the concussion, doctors urged Mawn to stop competing in the halfpipe, an event that inherently possesses the risk of snowboarders slamming down on the icy, hard-packed snow from high above.
“Immediately when it happened I knew I wasn’t competing in halfpipe again,” Mawn said. “The decision to try freeride came months later when I realized I was healthy enough to still snowboard.
“I have such a love for snowboarding that I couldn’t give that up completely, so I decided to take an alternate path in it and keep my health in mind all the way.”
Just one year after the injury, Mawn wrapped up a 2017-2018 North American Junior Freeride circuit championship at Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah.
Mawn was further drawn into the sport when watching some of his favorite halfpipe riders, such as 2010 Olympic halfpipe bronze medalist Scotty Lago, transition into freeride and backcountry snowboarding. The transitionit just made sense to Mawn.
“I love the freedom you have with freeride,” Mawn said. “Scotty Lago sees the face of the mountain kind of as a blank canvass and connects features on the mountain and flows with the terrain that is super unique. It showed me I can put my unique style into freeriding.”
When Mawn is traversing down a big-mountain course, like his home stomping grounds of Breckenridge’s Peak 6, he always aims to see the mountain differently than others so he can connect a line that will stand out to the judges. High above the resort, it sure as heck doesn’t resemble the dime-a-dozen feel of the stock halfpipes he used to ride down.
“It looks like a mini Alaska up there,” Mawn said of Breckenridge’s Peak 6 hike-to terrain.
“I love dropping big cliffs and going big in that sense,” he said, “and kind of bringing my own surf style and big surf background into it as well with big surfy turns. I like kind of connecting with the roots of snowboarding.”
Mawn’s surfer’s sensibility stems from the first decade of his life living in Virginia, as he surfed ocean waves for several years as a young kid after his parents’ bought him his first surf board at the age of 8.
Fast forward a decade, and Mawn now rides a Sims Blade board down the big mountain courses. It’s a wider, directional board with more nose than tail and an early-rise camber in the front that allows him to float on powdery stretches of big-mountain courses while also ripping the wind-blown hardpack when necessary.
Out on a big mountain course, elite junior shredders like Mawn aren’t throwing down halfpipe tricks like a 1080 or 1260 that the vertical amplitude in halfpipe allows for. Rather, Mawn sticks to 360s and 180s while also throwing in old school snowboarding grabs, such as the method, that originally made the sport so distinctly different from an aesthetic point of view.
“I love spinning frontside and backside 360s in my runs and just mixing up as many grabs as I can,” Mawn said. “I have a plan to begin with, but if I’m going down and I feel something else, I’ll change it up.”
Then there is the factor of unpredictability in freeriding. When Mawn takes off on a natural jump when freeriding the kind of air and rotation he receives from the natural snow takeoff is way less predictable, as opposed to slopestyle courses.
Despite it’s differences from halfpipe, Mawn is addicted to the verve of big mountain riding.He doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.
“I love it so much.”
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