Riding high

SSWSC team winning with attitude, amplitude

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Spencer Tamblyn was hooked the first time he saw someone snowboarding.

Before his family went to Steamboat Springs for vacation, Tamblyn rented a snowboard from a Denver shop. The result was disappointing for the aspiring rider.

"They didn't allow snowboards," he said about Steamboat Ski Area. "I was bummed."

The year was 1987, and Tamblyn was barely a teenager.

Now 32 and a retired professional snowboarder, Tamblyn is wrapping up his first season as the pro-am team coach for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

After living in Denver, Tamblyn has found a home in Steamboat. So has snowboarding.

"It's been an outstanding year," Tamblyn said. "One of the bigger steps forward was that there was a buzz about Steamboat and the way we were riding and our approach to things."

And to think Steamboat Ski Area didn't allow snowboarding until 1988 and didn't cut its first halfpipe in Bashor Bowl until 1990.

Accelerated evolution

The evolution of snowboarding has been quick in the Yampa Valley. The Winter Sports Club, known for its development of Alpine and Nordic skiers, embraced snowboarding in the early 1990s -- when the number of athletes and coaches participating was no more than a dozen.

"When I started in 1992, it was just Alpine," Tamblyn said. "I was racing full-time in slalom and giant slalom."

Several years later, the Winter Sports Club began its freestyle program.

In about 10 years, the snowboarding program -- Alpine and freestyle -- has produced Olympians, United States of America Snowboarding Association national champions and lots of smiles.

It's the last item that Winter Sports Club coaches emphasize above all else, program director Jon Casson said as he described the group's purpose.

The coaches want to instill a passion for snowboarding. They accomplish that by encouraging children to ride with their friends.

When the time comes to be competitive -- and not every snowboarder competes -- riders should be competitive to the extent that they prove to themselves what can be accomplished.

"It's not results-driven here," Casson said.

Attitude to amplitude

Casson picks out two highlights from the USASA Nationals held March 25 to April 1 in Tahoe, Calif.

The first was Maddy Schaf--frick's winning halfpipe run. The 11-year-old landed a front-side 540 in the pipe, and the reaction was priceless.

"It's five minutes before the score is up, and she's hugging everyone because she landed a jump she's always wanted to land in competition," Casson said.

The second highlight was Chloe Banning calling 2006 Winter Olympian Erin Simmons after Banning won the snowboardcross at nationals. Sim--mons, who trains in Steamboat, has developed a close relationship with Banning. Both are snowboardcross racers.

"I know how much Chloe wanted to win because of how much she looks up to Erin," Casson said.

The 15 Winter Sports Club riders who qualified for nationals won 43 total medals, including 25 gold medals.

The results speak for themselves, but the results aren't everything at the Winter Sports Club.

"Nik Baden is a perfect example," Casson said. "If he doesn't do as well as he wants, he doesn't get bummed. I saw 9-year-olds collapsing in tears at nationals because they didn't win. I think we are getting it right with regards to that."

Baden, 7, won the halfpipe and slopestyle competitions in the ruggie boys division for riders 7 and younger.

It could be argued that the right attitude has led to increased performance -- even with the older pro-am team, which consists of riders 15 years and older.

On Thursday, some of the boys on the team were playing in the halfpipe and on the rails, trying to one-up and impress Tamblyn.

"This year and last year, we were competing at professional-level competitions," said Chad Oliver, a member of the club's pro-am team. "You are traveling with your coach, who is one of your best friends. It's not like it's terrifying. You get to ride with the guys you see on TV."

Growing in popularity

This season, there were about 130 riders in the snowboard program, a far cry from the early years. Each year, the number increases, most notably in one area -- the girls.

When Casson joined the club seven years ago, he said attention was given to increasing female participation. Female coaches such as Jo Richards and Ashley Berger have been hired, and it's paying dividends.

"We are some of the only female coaches we see when we go to events," said Rich--ards, junior coach. "Historically, it's been a male-dominated sport, but it's definitely changing."

Richards, who has been with the program for three years, said this year more junior girls qualified for nationals than ever before, and the number of young girls joining the club increases by about 15 percent each year.

"We started dry land (training) in October," Schaffrick said. "Right when the mountain opened, we started training on the hill. Before even the mountain opened, the junior ability-plus team would carry out rails onto Howelsen and take the snow there and pile up little hills and work on our rails. It's awesome."

The junior program is for riders not yet in high school.

The next generation

Oliver, born and raised in Steamboat, is proud to ride for his hometown and his home mountain.

The Alpine snowboard program attracts top national and international riders, including Tyler Jewell, who represented the United States in the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Tamblyn would like to see a post-graduate freestyle program flourish in Steamboat. Oliver wants to be the first to join.

"Skiing has a reputation here," Oliver said. "With the snowboarding program, it hasn't been that way. The last three years, that has changed."

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