Lessons in the park: Why freeskiing is great for your kids, moms (column) | VailDaily.com

Lessons in the park: Why freeskiing is great for your kids, moms (column)

Zack Bukovich
Special to the Daily
Corey Vanular airs out of the superpipe during the men's skierpipe final at the 2005 Winter Gravity Games at Copper Mountain.
Dominique Taylor

As a kid, I used to ski every single day I could, and when I got old enough to drive and sound like my dad, I skied the days I couldn’t, too. So now, being one of those locals who ski maybe a day or two a week, I imagine my 8-year-old self would be pretty disappointed with my 25-year-old self.

However, being an occasional skier has given me the opportunity to place my attention on life outside of skiing. Which means I’ve had about seven years to watch the skiing culture settle in me. And it’s been both horrifying and pleasant. On the one hand, it took three or so years to put a head injury behind me, and it took even longer than that to feel passionate about anything as much as I did about freeskiing. On the other hand, I’ve had some time to reflect and discover that perhaps I turned out to be a halfway decent guy. And I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps the millions of park laps I took as a kid has something to do with that.

Now, a lot of people think of terrain parks as the skate parks of the mountain. I will not argue against that. Moms generally like to steer their children away from skate parks in the same way that they try to steer them away from terrain parks. However, moms should think twice about forcing their kids into the race team.

When the U.S. Freeskiing Open used to be in Vail, I’d skip school to ski around my heroes. Tanner Hall, Corey Vanular, TJ Schiller — all the top guys of the mid-2000s. My friends and I would ride the singles line all day, just to catch a lift with one of them. They were like gods to us, and words can’t describe what it felt like to see them rip the park and then sit next to us on the lift. I’d imagine the feeling would be similar to painting the Mona Lisa alongside DaVinci. I’ve read that DaVinci was a nice guy, but you can’t say that about all Renaissance painters. When I gathered the courage to speak to any one of them, they were as quick to show their thanks as I was to spew out all of my favorite tricks of theirs in the latest Level 1 movie.

Looking back, I realize that there weren’t any segregated groups of skiers that day. Everyone skied together. Everyone took fast laps, and just about everyone shouted their encouragement off the lift in the freeskiing vernacular. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that it’s days like this that shaped freeskiing and its inclusive culture. Having fun with friends and strangers, dropping your ego and skiing your heart out. It’s what it’s all about. It’s why those guys ditched the moguls or the race course for rails and jumps in the ’90s.

I remember Corey Vanular winning slopestyle one year at the Open. I don’t remember his run, but I do remember the guys in second and third place who were being doused in champagne were just as happy for Corey as he was for himself. If there’s anything I’m most proud of in freeskiing, it’s this. This huge capacity we have to be happy for each other. Call it empathy, call it camaraderie, call it whatever you like. But to me, it’s just a quality that good people seem to have.

So hey, I hope that’s enough to convince a few moms to let their kids ski the park. These kinds of influences can’t really be found in textbooks, and it surely isn’t written into the STEM curriculum that rules the schools these days. I can’t say much about these things because I haven’t paid too much attention to either of them. But I can say with confidence that I am thankful for all the people who showed me what it means to be a good person when I needed it the most. Even if it’s forced me to sit a few years out nursing a head injury and hang my park skis on the shelf a little earlier than expected.

Zach Bukovich can be reached at zackbukovich@hotmail.com