Big win for Vail extreme skier
VAIL — Local big mountain skier Austin Obourn, 15, won the Taos Nationals U-18 division on Sunday in New Mexico.
Big mountain competition is a judged version of what you see in ski movies, with officials scoring competitors’ runs down steep, cliff-laden terrain to determine a winner.
The International Freeskiiers and Snowboarders Association sanctions big mountain events for juniors, and at just 15 years old, it’s Obourn’s first year skiing in the association’s highest level of competition, the 15-18 or “U-18” age division. She says her background as an alpine racer has helped her technique in big mountain, which has been translating to high scores from the judges.
“Also, I always find it fun to just huck myself off of things,” she said.
Obourn grew up ski racing in the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail program. She said she always preferred the “free ski days,” where heavy snow or other conditions prevented the kids from training on gates. A lifelong skier, she said she started skiing trees and powder and hitting cliffs at around the age of 7.
“I’ve always just followed my brother all over the mountain,” she said.
Obourn’s twin brother John is also a competitive big mountain skier.
“There’s a lot of boys who do this sport, not a lot of girls,” Austin and John’s mother, Mikel Obourn, said on Monday. “So she’s special in that way … she happens to be winning a lot.”
LOTS OF SUPPORT
With competitions all over the West, the sport takes a lot of commitment from parents, as well as athletes. The venues themselves are often in remote areas of the resort.
“Just getting to the spectator area is really scary,” Mikel Obourn said. “But I don’t know if the sport itself is anymore dangerous than screaming down a downhill course.”
Raising kids in Vail was a calculated decision for the Obourns, who say they would rather have their kids on the mountain than at the mall on the weekends. Austin Obourn does well in school — she’s a sophomore at the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy — and plans on attending college when she finishes high school.
“The academy makes them study and complete their assignments outside of the classroom during the competition season,” Mikel Obourn said. “It’s a great school, academically especially, but it’s wonderful for skiing as well, of course.”
The academy is connected directly with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, which doesn’t see as much interest in big mountain as some of the other skiing disciplines. Nevertheless, the small program has the club’s full support.
“They’re competing against really big programs like Alta/Bird which has had hundreds of kids go through it,” Mikel Obourn said.
Sponsors have been helpful, as well.
“She’s gotten help from Tecnica boots, Blizzard skis, and clothing from Fly Low and Ism,” Mikel Obourn said.
While Austin Obourn is more of a math and science student, “She’s learning marketing through that, as well,” Mikel Obourn said.
JUNIOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Austin Obourn’s first national contest of the season, the Snowboard Nationals in January, she finished second behind 18-year-old Olivia Askew, a Junior World Championship competitor and Alta/Bird team member. With impressive results at her first two contests of the season, Obourn is a likely pick for this year’s Junior World Championships.
“I would assume she already has her bid, but they don’t give them out until the end of the year,” said Ski & Snowboard Club Vail big mountain coach Justin Holder.
Junior World Championships selections are based on results from three national events, leaving one remaining for Obourn. The Junior World Championships are the major pipeline for kids hoping to one day make it to big mountain skiing’s most competitive level, the Freeride World Tour.
“I grew up watching Chris Davenport and Wendy Fisher in movies,” she said. “But I want to go on the Freeride World Tour instead of the movie side of things. I’d rather compete.”