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Freestyling with a head for big air

Shauna Farnell
Preston Utley/Vail DailyVail local and freeskier Claudia Bouvier stands at the top of the superpipe Saturday at Copper Mountain.
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COPPER MOUNTAIN – Gravity has been an opponent for Claudia Bouvier almost all her life. But when she squares off against it these days, she takes a different approach. Bouvier, 18, said her freestyle career started about a week before her first big event – the U.S. Freeski Open last month in Vail. Nervous as she was, she landed a fifth-place finish in the women’s halfpipe event and eighth in slopestyle. She has since gone on to win two halfpipe events on the American Freeski Tour – one last weekend in Sugar Bowl, Calif., and the previous weekend in Big Bear, Calif.This week she is trying to familiarize herself with the halfpipe at Copper Mountain. Her U.S. Open result earned her a spot in the 2005 Gravity Games, which kick off at Copper later this week.”I was so nervous before the U.S. Open,” Bouvier said Saturday from Copper Mountain where she was skiing with her mom, Lisa, while also training in the pipe. “I haven’t been doing this for that long. I went up there, and the jumps were so big. I was so intimidated. We trained the top two jumps for a couple days, but right before the contest, they decided to include the last jump for the girls. It was so scary.””The coaches said (the table top) was 85 feet across,” Lisa Bouvier added.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to hit it or not,” Claudia said. “Then, I thought, I’m not hitting the rails, I have to suck it up and do it. Once I hit the jump, I was fine. But going into it, I was like, ‘I don’t want to do it! I don’t want to do it!'”Bouvier, who can confidently land 900-degree spins – but not as stylishly as she’d like – ended up throwing a “spread eagle boob-grab” off the last hit to finish off her line.Having started skiing and doing gymnastics at the age of 2, Bouvier, whose father, Daniel was something of a freestyle skiing pioneer in France before moving to Vail prior to his daughter’s birth, is no stranger to landing on her feet.A different kind of rotation

The 2004 Battle Mountain graduate made it to the state finals her senior year competing on the Summit High School gymnastics team. In the last few weeks as her freeskiing has taken off, Bouvier also decided to stop alpine racing with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, who she’d represented on the race course since the age of 13.”I love skiing, but racing wasn’t for me,” she said. “It’s a more laid-back feel in freestyle. Also, I wasn’t as good as I would have liked to be. The hours I put in made that hard.”Now, Bouvier is training with the club’s freestyle team and is part of Team Vail’s development program. She’s also been receiving pointers from Junior Martinez (Team Vail), Jamie Sundberg (Copper Freeride Team) and numerous others who have noticed Bouvier’s aptitude for taking her skis to new heights. In the last few years, Bouvier has attempted a few moguls contests during Mogul Mania events. It was there that she plucked up the nerve to throw her first 720 off of a jump, but gets a lot of her spinning prowess from her gymnastics background.”Gymnastics has helped me a lot,” she said. “It’s really good for balance. It’s good for my air sense. I know how to stop spinning, things like that. I always used to over-rotate when I did my tricks. I’d try to do a 7 and I’d end up with a 9. I’d open up. You had to pay attention and watch your landing.



“I did gymnastics from the time I was 6, and I just started twisting on skis. So, right now it’s not as comfortable. There’s more air time in skiing than there is in gymnastics. I’m trying to get everything a little bit more styly, since that’s a big part of freeskiing.”Bouvier attended Colorado University in Boulder last semester, but is now taking online classes in order to juggle her freeskiing ambitions. More than anything though, she wants to become a pediatric surgeon, but she figures her doctorate is another 12 years in the making, during which time she can study online and also play in the pipe.Not letting it go to her head”I just want to get my name out there and have fun with this,” she said. “I really like the atmosphere. Everyone seems so nice. Everyone’s out to have a good time.”

Bouvier tore her meniscus a few weeks ago, and recently got a concussion from hooking her skis on the lip of the wall and doing a header into the pipe. Despite the inherent dangers of a sport like freeskiing, Bouvier doesn’t let injuries go to her head, and her parents are in full support of her pursuits.”She does backflips on a balance beam that’s 4 inches wide – she’s been doing balance beam since she was 2,” Lisa Bouvier pointed out. “Claudia knows her limits. I trust her. I believe in her.”The Gravity Games, however, will pose the biggest freeski challenge that Claudia has faced to date.”It’s a little intimidating for me because all but two of the other girls (competing in Gravity Games) have been in the X Games, and have that under their belts,” she said. “They’re a lot more experienced than I am and most of them are older than me. I get scared every time I go into a contest. I just try to not focus so much and just tell myself, ‘I’m going to be able to hit this, it’s fine.’ I’m the kind of person who will just … throw something.” Vail, Colorado


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