New program teaches freeskiing

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— Freestyle skiing at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club is stepping to the next level this winter and it's pretty extreme.

"We felt like this is the way the sport is moving and we either had to embrace it or be left behind," Freestyle Program Director Wendy Allen said of the new program.

Allen and the freestyle program will begin offering a freeskiing program this winter, which will encompass the newest genre of freestyle skiing.

Allen hired coach Jeff Robertson earlier this year to instruct local skiers in the disciplines of Big Mountain (extreme) skiing, skier cross and slopestyle.

"I'm excited to get the chance to start this program in Steamboat," Robertson said. "Freeskiing is the latest evolution in the sport and I'm happy that Steamboat will be on the cutting edge."

Allen said Steamboat would join Aspen and Vail, who started freeskiing programs last winter. Freeskiing has built a wide base of interest through events like the Winter X Games and smaller regional events.

Robertson, a veteran freeskier who is still competitive in the International Free Skiing Association, will guide 10 skiers this winter. He said those numbers could increase, however, as more skiers learn about the program.

"With any new program you want to start out small," Allen said. "That way you can make sure that things run smoothly. Next year, hopefully, we will have 20 skiers in the program."

Robertson said most of the skiers this year are coming from the freestyle side of things. But the coaches think this program could draw skiers from other programs at the Winter Sports Club, and may also draw skiers from the community who are not currently involved with the club.

"We want to offer everything for everybody," Allen said.

She added that she isn't worried about freestyle skiers deserting existing programs to take part in the freeskiing program.

"As long as they are still a part of the Winter Sports Club I don't care," Allen said.

Allen believes that the Winter Sports Club needs to offer new programs to keep skiers interested and avoid "burning out" existing skiers.

"If I have a skier in my program that might be happier snowboarding then I will encourage them to join the snowboading program," Allen said. "The most important thing is that they stay with the Winter Sports Club."

Allen and Robertson both expect the freeskiing program to be a popular choice for skiers. Allen came up with the idea while talking with snowboarding coach Mike Mallon before a USSA conference in 2001. She was talking with Mallon about the similarities of freestyle skiing and snowboarding. The two got together and came up with the idea for a freeskiing program that would address the areas that seem to be growing in both sports.

Allen decided to wait a year, however, to make sure the program got off to a good start.

The new freeskiing program will address events like Big Mountain Skiing, or extreme skiing. Robertson said the World Championships are held every year in Crested Butte and continue to grow.

The program will also include skier cross, which is a combination of alpine skiing and motocross. Athletes ski down a modified giant slalom course, which normally includes banked turns and jumps, in heats of four. The winner of each heat advances to the next round until a winner is crowned.

Robertson said the local program would also stress slopestyle events that include big air and halfpipe events.

Robertson said there are plenty of regional and national-level events for local skiers to take part in this season. The new coach also expects Steamboat skiers to be qualifying for the Winter X Games and other international events in the next few years.

The team is currently dry-land training with the other freestyle skiers. However, in the next few months Robertson is hoping to move into the halfpipe and some of the steeper pitches at the Steamboat Ski Area.

Robertson said he hopes skiers in other disciplines of the program will come out and ski with the freeskiers and get a taste for what the program is about. He said the team will stress competitions but will also teach skiers the basics of backcountry skiing and how to ski in steeper terrain.

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