Vail Daily column: Freeskiing goes big at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail
January 8, 2014
Freeskiing slopestyle and halfpipe are making their debut at the Winter Olympics in Sochi this February and creating a worldwide recognition for the sport. Long before freeskiing achieved this stature at an international level, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail made the commitment to a dedicated freeskiing program with the hiring of Freeskiing Program Director Elana Chase in 2010. Elana (aka "E") has developed a world-class freeskiing program, offering diverse programming in halfpipe, slopestyle and big mountain.
In four short years, Elana has built a dedicated, skilled coaching staff and year-round on- and off-snow programming to support the achievement of the dreams of our freeskiing athletes. This ranges from the 8-year-olds competing in local and USASA regional competitions, to those qualifying for USASA Nationals, and the 16- to 28-plus-year-olds who are taking the podium at X Games, World Cups and 2014 Olympic qualifiers.
A Clear Vision
E has a clear vision of what is needed to develop a world-class freeskiing program. Her energy and vision have pushed our freeskiing program to the next level, as evidenced most recently when it was named the 2013 U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association Freeskiing Club of the Year. The implementation of Elana's vision started with improved on-mountain venues and park and pipe features. Next was the on-mountain airbag to enable skill-appropriate trick progressions and with the support of our donors from the acrobatic sports community, the construction of a state-of-the-art acrobatics room at the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy campus in Minturn equipped with two trampolines and a foam jumping pit. A clubwide initiative in partnership with Vail Resorts and Burton allowed the acquisition of a 22-foot pipe cutter that insures the Superpipe constructed for the Burton U.S. Snowboard Open is available all season for the training of our ski and snowboard halfpipe athletes, as well as the enjoyment of the skiing and riding public. Future facilities dreams include the development of a summer ramp allowing Vail's acrobatic athletes to develop new aerial skills as safely as possible at home.
Additions continue to be made to the coaching staff to support three diverse freeskiing disciplines and a growing number of athletes of different ages and skill sets with widely varying competition needs. Water ramps are a huge part of offseason preparation with athletes traveling to the Olympic Park Water Ramps in Park City, Utah, several weeks over the summer and fall. In June, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail travels to Oregon where the freeskiing and snowboard staff works together to build a private three-hit "pro" jump line and 22-foot superpipe for the exclusive use of our athletes.
What has always been evident about Elana is the passion that she has for the sport of freeskiing and the commitment she has to her skiers as both athletes and people. Elana is a former member of the US Freestyle Development Team in inverted aerials and moguls and has coached freeskiing for more than 12 years. She is also a licensed USASA coach and a USSA coach Level 4 certified for aerials and new school acrobatic skiing. In 2008, she was named USSA Freestyle Domestic Coach of the Year. In April 2012, Elana was named Vail Ski & Snowboard Club's Coach of the Year. Her credentials and track record are the best of any coach involved in the sport worldwide.
Through E's hard work over the years, she has developed a loyal following of some of the best freeskiing athletes in the world including, most recently, Adam Crook, Alex Ferreira, Broby Leeds, Annalisa Drew and Aaron Blunck.
Character, Courage, Commitment
We look forward in anticipation of what the rest of the season holds for the SSCV freeskiing program and its athletes of all ages. This past Friday evening left one of our SSCV freeskiing athletes, 17-year-old Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy senior Aaron Blunck, sitting where every snowsports athletes dreams to be — ranked first for the U.S. in the Olympic qualifiers after winning the Visa U.S. Grand Prix Freeskiing Halfpipe in Copper. What struck me most about his win was how he remembered his roots when approached after the competition.
"Having my parents here is a huge support for sure," he said. "They try to make it to every event they can, and for them to be here for the time I won is huge. I can't believe that they were here. I'm so happy."
Although Aaron's spot on the U.S. Olympic Team is not yet fully secured, he will always be of "Olympic" stature in our eyes, embodying our mission of character, growth and excellence in his post-win statement. Whether Olympic athlete or just starting out learning tricks, each Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athlete learns character, courage and commitment as the ultimate fruit of their participation in the discipline of freeskiing.