AVSC freestyle gets taste of Xtreme
Vail, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Angeli VanLaanen had always dreamed about competing at a high level; she just never knew what sport would take her there.
First, it was inline skating. Then came skateboarding, ice skating and even dance.
“I always had aspirations of being a professional in anything,” the 21-year old Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club member joked Wednesday. “I tried everything until one thing finally stuck.”
That thing was freestyle skiing. And Friday night, under the Winter X Games lights and with large crowds cheering them on, VanLaanen and a field of promising young female athletes will drop into the Buttermilk superpipe.
VanLaanen remembers the first time she laid eyes on a halfpipe, something nonexistent on her home slopes of Mount Baker in Washington. She had grown up a big-mountain skier, following close behind older brother Cachaulo, and was attending a moguls competition at a nearby mountain. Then, the eighth-grader spotted the pipe and was instantly intrigued.
After one run, VanLaanen was hooked.
“I love the feeling of getting to jump in the air over and over again,” she added. “This became my true passion. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush.”
Off came the skates and the slippers – ballet and jazz during the work week left VanLaanen’s feet so bloody and blistered that she couldn’t fit comfortably into ski boots. She decided to focus solely on skiing soon thereafter, a choice that made AVSC freestyle coach Elana Chase happy.
“She works really hard and has a natural ability to spin and put together difficult maneuvers,” Chase said Tuesday. “She’s a really easy person to coach, and that helps her. She really trusts the people around her.”
VanLaanen spent the summer after her freshman year of high school at camp at Whistler-Blackcomb learning “what real park skiing was all about.” From there, VanLaanen and her brother, now 23 and a recent graduate of CU-Boulder, spent days off from school cultivating their newfound passion at Whistler, Stevens Pass and Grouse Mountain.
VanLaanen’s success did not go unnoticed. Chase made a point of seeking her out at the bottom of her second-place halfpipe run in the Aspen Snowmass Open. The relationship the two forged led to VanLaanen’s decision to leave Washington in November to train with AVSC.
“Elana really has a passion for pushing girls in our sport, and she knows what she’s doing,” said VanLaanen, a 2006 X Games alternate. “I wanted to be a part of a team, and Aspen has such an amazing club and venue.
“I thrive off criticism, so it’s been awesome.”
There’s been little to go around. In fact, VanLaanen has made such a favorable impression that Chase and others lobbied for her inclusion in the X Games. It was hardly a tough sell: On the strength of her performances at the Aspen Snowmass Open, a halfpipe and quarterpipe win last season in Vermont, VanLaanen received word Jan. 4 she made the X Games.
“I was actually in my friend’s car on the way to ride some powder here in Aspen,” VanLaanen remembered. “We were driving, and somebody mentioned about one of the boys making it, and so-and-so not making it. I asked if the list was up and somebody said, ‘Yeah, and you’re on it.
“I ended up having one of the best powder days ever.”
VanLaanen justified her invitation with a third-place in halfpipe at last week’s U.S. Freeskiing Open at Breckenridge despite falling on her second run. She also took a tumble during a training run one week before, landed on her back and suffered a mild concussion. She took her first full-fledged training runs for the Open on the morning of the competition.
Ana Segal, one of VanLaanen’s roommates, took first in slopestyle at the event.
“Ana winning just made me so excited,” VanLaanen added. “We all celebrated. We don’t get too competitive. When one person wins, everyone of us wins.”
VanLaanen, by her own admission, has been taking things easy before her X Games debut. She insists she has yet to feel the pressure, or worry about a repeat injury. .
In her first U.S. Freeskiing Open in 2005, VanLaanen over-rotated a 700 and landed on her hand; she had two plates and 17 screws inserted not long after. In last year’s Open, she didn’t even make it to the later rounds. She missed the landing on a large kicker, felt like “I was falling off a building,” and sprained her ACL.
A carefree VanLaanen said she’s looking forward to being in the field and sharing arguably the biggest moment of her career with friends and family. Her parents and brother fly in today.
“It just wouldn’t be the same without them,” VanLaanen said. “This has been a huge victory for the whole family. They believed in me the entire time. They’ve seen me work to get here, and they’ve helped and supported me the entire time. I really can’t wait.
As far as predications, VanLaanen said she’s hoping to ski purely for love of the sport and not get caught up in the pressure. Chase, on the other hand, made a bold prediction.
“She certainly has a viable chance,” Chase said. “That’s why I fought so hard to get her in this event. She truly deserves to be here.”
Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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