Local halfpipe skier Taylor Seaton becomes an FIS judge en route to win at the NZ Freeski Open
AVON — When the International Ski Federation became involved in freeskiing a few years ago, Vail Valley resident and X Games athlete Taylor Seaton was pretty skeptical. Fearing the federation would push halfpipe skiing in the wrong direction, Seaton rebelled against FIS and the organizational changes it brought to his sport.
To make halfpipe skiing an Olympic discipline, however, FIS had to get involved. Seaton accepted that fact and moved on.
Last year was a big season for Seaton. After starting off 2014-15 with a win at the NZ Freeski Open, Seaton competed in FIS Grand Prix events, the Dew Tour, X Games and more, with a 13th-place finish being his worst of the season. In figuring out how he would continue that momentum, he started brainstorming from the glacier at Mount Hood a few months ago. His bank account was dwindling, but his skills were intact as he had just finished two sessions at the Windells summer camp. He wasn’t getting enough support from sponsors to make it back to New Zealand to defend his title, and he was beginning to accept the fact that a trip down under might not be possible this summer.
“It was tough to imagine considering I had won last year, and had been traveling to NZ for the past eight consecutive seasons,” he said.
Then, unexpectedly, he received an offer from a staffer at the NZ Winter Games — an every-other-year-event that he was also hoping to compete in this year — asking if he could be a judge at the competition.
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“I replied yes but that I wanted to compete in the halfpipe event. A week or so went by with no response and the hope of making it to NZ was slowly washing out of my brain,” Seaton said. “One night at Hood I decided that I would reply back and say yes I am available to judge the whole competition and would pull out of pipe for the job. Next morning I woke up to a message saying there was no changing my mind now and that I am committed.”
Seaton was apprehensive about his decision to become a judge at the FIS-sanctioned NZ Winter Games.
“I was freaking out for the first few days after committing to this just thinking that I was doing something wrong, like I had given in to something that I haven’t been supporting or repping for my whole career,” he said.
However, judging the NZ Winter Games was his only ticket back to New Zealand, where he would be able to defend his crown at the NZ Freeski Open.
“I flew to NZ with a mission knowing I had only one shot at another podium,” he said “I put my heart into it.”
Along the way, Seaton had a realization.
“After a week or so … it finally set in that FIS is currently my biggest supporter,” Seaton said. “They were so easy to work with and understood my situation so well. It was mind blowing. Since I knew I wasn’t going to compete in the Winter Games, an event that I have won and podiumed at, I still wanted to make sure I did the NZ Freeski Open because I had won it the year before. I also wanted to make sure I was going to get as much on snow time as I could and FIS, to my surprise, happily booked my flight from the 2nd of August to the 20th of October. I was quite impressed that it went that easily and that the guys behind FIS actually cared for an athlete, which a lot of time gets overlooked in competition.”
THAT WINNING FEELING
After throwing down a run he was proud of, Seaton walked away with another win at the NZ Freeski Open in August, edging out native New Zealander Beau-James Wells of the famous Wells family of freeskiers.
“I would say I got lucky to walk away with another win at the NZ Freeski Open halfpipe,” Seaton said. “I guess you can say I accomplished what I wanted to.”
In judging the ski halfpipe competition at the NZ Winter Games the following week, Seaton said he was happy to spend the time working for FIS.
“I feel like it’s my time to give back to FIS … for supporting me and allowing me to make it to NZ this season,” he said.
Seaton also got to see another Vail Valley resident performing well — the top-finishing American was Vail-native Broby Leeds, who beat out a tough group of U.S. Olympians including Aaron Blunck and Lyman Currier to take fourth on the day.
“I couldn’t be happier to start the season off with a fourth,” Leeds said.
Frenchman Kevin Rolland came away with the win.
‘ANIMALS WAITING TO DROP IN’
In the end, Seaton says while he’s seen immense changes to the sport over the last few years, those changes haven’t been initiated by FIS’s involvement.
“I think that the attitude of countries, coaches and athletes when we got accepted into the Olympics is what changed our sport,” he said. “Everything and everyone really started to get serious from all points of competitive freeskiing. Coaches, ski technicians, physical therapists, nutritionists, personal trainers, assistant coaches and even personal videographers are all a very common thing these days. … Before, it was all the athletes standing at the top of comps being the animals that we all are waiting to drop in. Nowadays there are so many extra people at the top of X Games, Dew Tour and pretty much every competition, it’s crazy.”
At 25 years old, Seaton’s has been competing in the sport through all the changes he described. As he looks to the future, he says he won’t forget about the past.
“There is such a different side of skiing than having the most technical tricks,” he said. “I’m lucky I got to know a lot of the older guys, the legends of our sport. They opened my mind and taught me what the skiing lifestyle was all about, and I appreciated that and try to carry that on to this day.”