Athletes speak of changes to freestyle skiing |

Athletes speak of changes to freestyle skiing

Ryan Slabaugh

SUMMIT COUNTY – As the proposed freestyle training center in Keystone becomes the center of public debate, two local athletes have volunteered to plead their cases.

The center, if it is approved, signifies a new set of changes to the freestyle scene in Summit County and across the country.

For Justin Henceroth of Team Summit and University of Colorado freestyle team member Lauren Rainen, the idea of a local training center has caused them to appear at proposals this week, and before the Snake River Planning Commission Thursday.

Rainen was a teammate of Landon Morely Sawyer, who died in a skiing accident in 2002 and whose parents are the driving force behind the project.

“He was an awesome guy,” said Rainen, who lives in Keystone. “And he was a really great skier.”

The duo is attempting to persuade local homeowners that the center would not be a noise nuisance and show opponents that the athletes using the center are nothing but serious.

But, more changes abound.

Rainen and her teammates are not going to train at Winter Park this season, due to a welcome invitation from Keystone. Along with Team Summit and coach John Dowling, the club team from Boulder will be making the daily trips to Summit.

“We thought it would be a good partnership,” Dowling said.

Rainen, Henceroth and 14 other freestylers will also be traveling to Switzerland Sept. 30 for two weeks of on-snow training. Last year, only six athletes made the trip, which helps them meet personal goals.

“John’s idea behind the camp is to get the tricks really dialed in,” Henceroth said. “That way, when competitions start, the experimenting is already over.”

Still, there are more changes.

When the athletes return from Switzerland, Arapahoe Basin will be trying its new snowmaking equipment. This could allow for training as early as mid-October.

In the long run, Henceroth and Rainen said, the early opening could replace the trips to Switzerland. While camps in Europe cost around $1,200 a week, a week at A-Basin would only run $400 for coaching.

“It’s really hard to say,” Henceroth said. “It really depends on the training situation at A-Basin.

For Dowling, however, the trips to Switzerland hold more meaning than just training time.

“It’s hard to say we’d stop going,” Dowling said. “There’s a lot of positives about going to Switzerland. We train next to gold medalists. It’s a beautiful place. And we can do it cheaper even than going up to Canada.”

Whitney Henceroth, Sutton Anderson, Sarah Ruckriegle and Caitlin Shay are also representing Summit County on the trip while a slew of senior athletes and Vail’s Ally Levy are also attending.

During the summer, freestyle athletes travel to Whistler, British Columbia for on-snow training.

Even the rules and schedule are changing this year.

Two years ago, a skier’s feet could not go above their head. Last year, the rule allowed off-axis tricks, but a skier could not go straight back off a jump.

This season, according to the International Federation of Skiing, anything goes. This means, the World Cup mogul skiers will be shooting for the Cork 1080, a dangerous trick that involves spinning and flipping.

The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, which handles most regional events, is still debating whether to incorporate the FIS recommendation into its rules.

So, Henceroth said, the top freestyle skiers are preparing for the rule change in advance.

The final change, Henceroth said, will occur at national qualifier time. Last year, skiers competed all season, only to have their fate determined at a qualifying event. This year, invitations will be handed out after evaluating the top three performances by each athlete.

Plus, the USSA upped the quota.

In November, freestyle skiers will compete to be placed on the U.S. Freestyle Team and the U.S. NORAM team. The events, which are scheduled for Park City, Utah, were moved to Winter Park last year due to poor snow conditions.

This year, they’ll be moved to Keystone, Rainen said.

“That’s just kind of how things work in this sport,” Rainen said. “They let you know about a week in advance.”

Ryan Slabaugh can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 257, or at

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