VAIL — With his 6-foot, 4-inch frame and flowing blonde hair, Jake Cummings may look more like a beach volleyball player than a world-class freeskier. But spend a day on the slopes with the East Vail resident and you’ll quickly realize his destiny lies on the jumps and rails to which he takes so naturally.
Cummings, a Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy Class of 2013 graduate, is coming off an impressive season in the park and pipe, garnering attention from the top echelons of the sport at just 18 years old. Despite starting the year in recovery mode from a lingering back injury he sustained last summer, Cummings went on to win the halfpipe competition at the Revolution Tour in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, in February, earning him a spot on the Junior World Championships halfpipe team.
But by that point in the season, halfpipe just wasn’t doing it for Cummings anymore.
“The main reason I was doing halfpipe was because I kept getting invited to pipe events,” Cummings said. “I wasn’t doing that well in slopestyle because I ended up having to choose one or the other. ... As I continued training pipe, I didn’t really see myself progressing to the spot I wanted to be, so I moved my focus to slope and ended up falling in love with slopestyle again, which is what originally what got me into freeskiing to begin with.”
With his focus now sharpened, Cummings says his goal is to make a run at the world stage in slopestyle.
“The chance for me to get a World Cup spot for next year is going to be difficult, but I’m going to go for it,” he said.
RIGHT TIME, RIGHT PLACE
While Cummings has worked hard to get where he is, he says he owes most of his success to other factors — namely the time and place he grew up, and the people surrounding him at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail.
“(Friends) Broby Leeds, John Leonard, (and coaches) Elana Chase and Peter O’Brien are such a huge aspect of any success I’ve had this season,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine being where I am without their help. Without them, I just don’t know if I would have the passion for the sport that I do now.”
Along the way, other local influences have helped Cummings develop confidence as an athlete who doesn’t exactly fit the physical mold of a sport often dominated by those of average or below-average height. Local legend John Spriggs, who competed in X Games as a teenager before graduating to the film side of the sport, has always been an example of an athlete who towers above the field yet still turns out podium-worthy performances.
“I’m pretty tall at 6 foot, 4 inches, and he’s still like 3 inches taller than I am,” said Cummings. “It was always good for me to see him out there doing so well. ... It was hard when I was younger, but as I’m getting stronger I think it’s definitely going to help. I’m know I’m going to be able to generate a lot of power through my body.”
Head Skis has helped out along the way, as well, by sponsoring Cummings over the last two years.
“Skis aren’t really made for someone of my size and weight, and I’m damaging my skis a lot, so it’s great to have the support of Head because they definitely help me out any time I break a ski,” Cummings said. “I love having them in my corner.”
Monster Energy and POC have also invested in Cummings though sponsorship. But above all else, Cummings says the support of his parents — longtime Vail locals Greg and Janice Cummings — has kept him going strong.
“My parents have always been so supportive of anything I’ve ever wanted to do. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now without their support,” Cummings said. “When I was a freshman, I was lucky enough that my father was able to afford to get us a fly-bed trampoline in our backyard. It was a huge bonus and definitely helped me progress.”
DANGER ALWAYS LOOMING
Cummings says he’s not sure if he’ll make it to the top of the sport as the threat of injury, along with basic human limitations, are omnipresent in a sport like slopestyle.
“There’s definitely a lot of danger in the sport, there’s risk involved with every trick you do,” he said. “You’re going off 70-foot jumps, setting tricks and hoping you land correctly. There’s a lot of injuries that happen in the sport and not just in progressing yourself — you can easily hurt yourself doing a trick you’ve done a thousand times.”
Cummings’ plan for now is to go hard another year and see what happens. But getting a proper education is always on his mind, he says.
“I want to do something in fashion probably, maybe on the marketing side, but I just don’t know yet,” he said. “At some point this season, I realized I’m not ready to go to school yet. I’m just not even sure what I’d want to study if I did go to school right now, so I’ve decided I’m going to keep skiing next year, no matter what.”
Regardless of what happens, one thing is for certain, Cumming says.
“Everything that I’ve learned in skiing is going to affect what I do in life,” he said.
“When I was a freshman, I was lucky enough that my father was able to afford to get us a fly-bed trampoline in our backyard. It was a huge bonus and definitely helped me progress.”