Local snowboardcross racer Connor Schlegel makes the jump to pro team | VailDaily.com

Local snowboardcross racer Connor Schlegel makes the jump to pro team

Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy graduate skips development team

Connor Schlegel racing in Europe during the 2020-21 season. The Eagle County snowboardcross athlete was nominated to the U.S. Snowboarding Team for the 2021-22 season.
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VAIL – Local Connor Schlegel was hoping to get nominated to the U.S. Snowboard Team’s snowboardcross development team this spring.

Instead, he was surprised to learn he had skipped the development team level altogether, and was nominated directly to the pro team.

For an athlete who has only one World Cup start on his stat sheet, it is a big leap.

“I was pretty blown away,” he said.

But Schlegel says he’s excited to take on the challenge.

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After growing up on the Front Range and showing talent for snowboardcross at a young age, Schlegel moved in with his grandparents in Eagle County during his teenage years and began attending the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, where he graduated in 2020. He says snowboardcross racing is the main topic of conversation around the dinner table with his grandparents, who have become close observers of the sport.

When he becomes an official member of the U.S. Team next season, Schlegel will receive access to the U.S. Ski & Snowboard USANA Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah, as well as athletic benefits including access to expert coaching, sport science, sports medicine and high-performance staff, along with education opportunities.

19-year-old Connor Schlegel
Special to the Daily

A season overseas

Schlegel said after a season traveling in Europe and competing in the Europa Cup, which is a level below the World Cup, he was ready to get back to the United States and race on some of his home courses this year.

At Copper Mountain on April 2-3, Schlegel won a pair of FIS races, which he said likely helped boost him onto the U.S. Team. The following day April 4, he finished fifth in the National Championships.

Schlegel’s longtime coach, Phil Reynolds, said he believes the time spent in Europe this season helped train at a level that prepared him to go his hardest at the Copper Mountain races.

“It’s a higher level of competition,” Reynolds said of the Europa Cup. “We did OK, we had a top 10 and a top 16, but it wasn’t the success Connor is used to on the the North American Cup.”

Getting around Europe was a challenge; Reynolds said he received 26 COVID-19 tests over the course of the one month spent in Italy, Austria and Switzerland.

On Feb. 18, Schlegel was able to get his first taste of the tough competition he’ll face if he continues his trajectory in the sport. He received a World Cup start in Reiteralm, Austria, which also happened to be the area he was basing out of for part of the trip.

The course didn’t necessarily suit him, though, and as is often the case with an athlete’s first World Cup start, he didn’t make it very far through the ranks, finishing 62nd.

The experience made him hungry for more, though.

Back in the U.S., the course at Copper Mountain did suit his strength, with a lot of turning required.

“He usually gets a good start and has to fight down the course,” Reynolds said.

That’s how the races went in April, when Schlegel notched a pair of victories at Copper Mountain.

“Even with people like Senna Leith, from the U.S. Team, and Mikey LaCroix, who are usually ahead of him,” Reynolds said.

Leith also calls the Vail area home, and said he was excited for Schlegel.

“I love the kid,” Leith said. “He’s a great snowboarder, and he’ll be really, really good on the snowboardcross tour one day, if not this season.”

Reynolds said for that to happen, Schlegel will need to continue to put in the hours not just on snow, but in the gym as well.

“His work ethic is what got him to this place,” Reynolds said. “But the work has really only just begun for him.”

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