Team Summit youth big mountain snowboarders Wojtalik, Lemire podium at North American Championships
Team Summit snowboard director Matty Voegtle is a snowboard lifer. The athlete-turned-coach grew up while the sport he loved matured as well. He’s competed in many contests and rode many a powder day at some of the world’s best snowboarding locations.
A late January trip to Snowbird Resort in Utah currently goes down as the most special conditions he’s ever shredded.
“The best snow I’ve ever been in,” Voegtle said. “Eighty-eight inches in four days, so crazy.”
It wasn’t the sheer amount of snow over four days that made that trip so memorable for Voegtle, however. Rather, it was an epic snowboarding weekend because of the people who joined him there.
Voegtle traveled to Snowbird as part of Team Summit’s big mountain team, which included a pair of youth snowboarders, Lucas Lemire, 14, and Zack Wojtalik, 13.
Much like big mountain snowboarding is a new discipline — only officially on the competition scene for a few years and in select locations — Lemire and Wojtalik are also new, young riders within it. And considering big mountain snowboarding is a sport that has an almost frontier-like feel with few athletes having come before you, the young riders have leaned on Voegtle and other Team Summit coaches, like Sam Michaels, to show them the way.
In doing so, Michaels, Voegtle and Team Summit, more accurately, are showing Lemire and Wojtalik “the line.” In big mountain snowboarding, the line is what athletes and coaches refer to when speaking of the specific path they will ride their snowboard through in the more extreme, natural above-tree-line terrain where competitions take place. For example, a big mountain competition location in Summit County is the Six Senses terrain at Breckenridge Ski Resort’s Peak 6 — extreme, double-black diamond chute-skiing littered with rock cliffs and other natural features that big mountain snowboarders and freeskiers can choose to include in their line.
The idea of strategizing just where you are going to put your snowboard while staring down at off-piste skiing — the wind sometimes howling at your back on a ridge — doesn’t come easy for anyone. Now imagine you’re a young rider thinking about earning points in a judged competition. That’s the sports psychology Voegtle and Team Summit have worked to instill in Lemire, Wojtalik and Team Summit’s five total big mountain riders this season.
Which brings us back to Team Summit’s Snowbird powder day in late January. Riding that once-in-a-lifetime powder, Voegtle feels he and Team Summit helped Lemire, Wojtalik and other athletes to better understand the attitude and psyche Team Summit’s coaches want them to not only bring into big mountain competitions, but wherever and whenever they ride.
The competition they were there for had already concluded when Voegtle felt Lemire and Wojtalik took their biggest strides as riders. With the shepherding of their coaches, the pair sent bigger cliffs and landed larger jumps than they had in the actual competition. They gained confidence for the rest of big mountain season, which concluded on Friday with podium finishes at the North American Junior Freeride Championships at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, British Columbia.
“Competition snowboarding is so counterintuitive,” Voegtle said. “So, if you can take that attitude of just going out and riding, like, ‘this is just another day,’ if you can take that into the comp, that’s ultimately what all the sports psychology amounts to. In a scene like that, it becomes so easy to demonstrate. We don’t snowboard for contests. We just snowboard. And, when there is a contest, we are still just snowboarding.”
Lemire and Wojtalik, like any other Team Summit snowboarder, competed in several different snowboarding disciplines when they joined the program. Voegtle said he doesn’t think there is necessarily anything different about a young rider who chooses big mountain over more traditional disciplines like halfpipe or boardercross. That said, he thinks there is a general feeling that big mountain is a bit untapped and a bit more adventurous.
Taking into account that element of adventure, Team Summit’s coaches focused with Lemire and Wojtalik this year on refining turn technique, turn shape and carrying pressure with their speed. Voegtle realizes the first thing anyone notices about big mountain snowboarding is sending a huge grab off of a cliff. But the fundamentals of staying upright and riding with control are more the name of the game in terms of impressing the judges — especially for young riders like Lemire and Wojtalik.
This brings us to the Nor Ams at Kicking Horse. Both Lemire and Wojtalik were more or less happy to be there as they were the final two kids to qualify. But once there, they listened to their coaches, stuck to what they knew and found themselves on the podium.
Voegtle described Wojtalik as a young rider with a good fundamental foundation and a strong work ethic. A little timid at first, once Team Summit showed Wojtalik what he could already do, his riding blossomed. As for Lemire, Voegtle said he also started the season somewhat timid. But, Voegtle added, being cautious isn’t always a bad thing, as the coach said Lemire’s calculated approach helped him to choose smart lines.
Wojtalik earned second place in the 10-rider snowboard male 12-14 competition after Michaels told him and Lemire to be sure to take it easy and stay on their feet, as many competitors fell on their lines. In the Nor Am finals, Wojtalik rode down the center of a chute to skier’s right. It was open-faced, so the judges could see his technique. He also hit what he estimated was a 4-foot rock jib that his Team Summit coaches said would look good to turn out of.
“Then, as I went down a really long run out, I was making hop turns down the moguls face,” Wojtalik said. “I showed how happy and proud I was of the run I made. And, at the bottom, there’s this little area called ‘The Playground,’ little rocks to show the judges what you can do. And, on one of the rocks, I went off a bit too fast, did a melon grab right in front of judges. The judges could see the bottom side of my board because I sent it a little bigger than I wished, 10 feet out, 8 feet up. And I basically landed at the finish corral and was able to ride down through it.”
Lemire finished just behind Wojtalik by executing a few nice turns before hitting a 4-foot drop into another chute. Throughout the rest of his line, Lemire carved and connected fluid turns before hitting another drop near the judges, coming to the stop with one final, textbook turn. Wojtalik and Lemire’s Team Summit teammate Jace Guadagnoli took eighth place in the competition.
Looking ahead, Lemire will next year compete in the 15- to 18-year-old division. Despite the challenge that awaits him, he’s ready to take the next step — or line — on his big mountain snowboard.
“They are pretty crazy,” Lemire said. “But I’m trying to set a goal for myself to get at least one podium next year. And that’s going to be hard. But I just want to become a better all-around rider and to help other people to become better riders.”
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