January 10, 2009
This weekend, youth from all over the West and few from Down Under are taking to the Park City slopes for the first-ever Park City Freestyle Classic.
What was originally slated to be an Intermountain Division event has quickly grown to a large showcase of upcoming talent on the freestyle circuit.
The event is a joint venture between all of the local freestyle programs — Park City Freestyle, FLY Freestyle, Axis Freeride and Wasatch Freestyle. It is also a joint effort of many of the local venues, including The Canyons’ terrain park, the aerial hill at the Utah Olympic Park and the halfpipe and mogul hills at Park City Mountain Resort.
But, according to Park City Freestyle director Mick Berry, the real focus is all of the junior athletes, especially local ones.
The event opened up on Thursday with slopestyle and aerials events. The various freestyle entities decided to dedicate both events to local freestyle athletes who have died in the last two years, Bjorn Thorsen and Erica Knell. Berry said the decision to honor two of Park City’s promising young skiers was an easy one.
"Everyone in our sport is part of a small family," Berry said. "When we lose one athlete, we lose a bit of ourselves."
Recommended Stories For You
Although some of the top junior athletes are competing elsewhere, this is one of the biggest early-season events. For a lot of young freestylists, the event allows them to see their competition and gauge what they will need to do in the next few months leading up to season-ending competitions like the Junior Olympics.
"We’ll get a good feel for what people are doing," said Axis Freeride director Chris "Hatch" Haslock.
FLY Freestyle manager Tim Preston agreed.
"It’s a good experience for the kids," he said. "They get out and compete and are exposed to the better talent."
This the first time Park City has hosted an early competition like this. Besides athletes from Utah, there are also junior competitors from the Rocky Mountain and Northern Divisions and even a handful of athletes from Australia.
"Everyone came to this competition," said Preston.
Berry explained that the competition began as a division race, but the draw of the venues and the opportunity to compete against top-notch Utah athletes enticed almost the entire West Coast to the competition. With it being summer in the Southern Hemisphere, the Australian development team has been in Park City training and decided to join the competition as well. But Berry is quick to brag that the talent of local kids is unbelievable. He said that it is a great opportunity for the community to come out and see what local kids are accomplishing.
"It definitely makes a huge difference," Berry said. "When you are standing in a halfpipe and see people it just gives them that extra oomph."
It’s also a very fan-friendly sport. Much like close relatives gymnastics and diving, freestyle is a sport of "ahh"-inspiring twists and turns, so even newbies to freestyle can enjoy the entertainment aspect of the sport.
The event also shows off the freestyle programs in Utah. One of the hallmarks of freestyle locally is that all of the programs work together. Rather than competing for athletes and publicity, they choose to share their resources and expertise to make sure that local athletes are some of the best in the nation.
"That’s what’s cool about this area," Berry said. "It’s how well we work together to pull things off. We all recognize it’s a small sport and it’s an even smaller town, so we have to work together to see our kids realize their dreams."
Berry explained that, for many freestyle coaches, it is more than a job. Because most of them were competing when their sport was still in its early stages, they were often self-taught or learned tricks along the way. Now that the sport is so successful, many see it as a chance to give back.
Preston marvels at the opportunities that local kids to train after school at night under the lights, with some of the best coaching in the country, and have very little disruption to the rest of their lives. He said this event is a great way for the public to see what local kids are accomplishing in just their spare time.
"There’s going to be some great skiing," Haslock said.
The moguls and duals moguls events will be held on Saturday at PCMR at 10:30 a.m. Halfpipe competition will start Sunday at PCMR at 10:15 a.m. For more information, visit http://www.pcfreestyle.org or ww.intermountainfreestyle.org.