Freeskier Sam Jackenthal remembered at King of the Wasatch competition
There aren’t many moments when an athlete is given an award for being a decent person.
Good guys, the saying goes, finish last.
But that’s exactly the type of athlete the Park City nonprofit Sam Jackenthal Fund honors.
The organization’s day-to-day mission is to provide scholarships and other opportunities to freeskiers who serve the memory of Sam Jackenthal — an up-and-coming local freeskier who tragically died after a training accident three years ago at the age of 15. The organization and the United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association present the Sam Jackenthal Award after the King of the Wasatch event — a four-day freeski and snowboard competition that serves as the culminating event for USASA’s Big Mountain West series.
On Saturday, following the last day of competition, Ron Jackenthal was eager to honor his son’s memory.
His hands flew around a tablet as he struggled to get a recently completed video to play over a projector before presenting the award. All around him, filling the office space below Park City Mountain Resort, parents and competitors from around the West waited to hear the official results of Saturday’s slopestyle competition.
But they were all patient.
The freeskiing and snowboarding communities are the Jackenthals’ people. And the group of competitors had not forgotten that.
Just a few years ago, Sam was a Big Mountain West competitor, and was quickly advancing through the sport’s ranks.
When Ron Jackenthal got the clip going, it showed a range of athletes, from professionals like Alex Hall and former pro Ashley Battersby to a host of young freeskiers and snowboarders, sharing what it meant to them to “Live like Sam.”
While each athlete had a slightly different take on the idea, the most repeated themes were positivity and commitment.
“It means to always make the best out of your day,” one athlete said in the video.
“Never make anyone feel alone,” another said.
The award has become part of USASA’s tradition for the King of the Wasatch competition.
It was the third year that the award has been given. Levi Baglino earned the award in 2016 and James Kanzler earned it in 2017.
The series has embraced the Jackenthal Fund tightly. During Saturday’s presentation, the Big Mountain West series presented the nonprofit with a check for $500. Just as significant is its esteem of the award.
“This is a huge deal,” Max Raymer, assistant series director, explained to the crowd. “The biggest thing about this award is … it’s about the passion, the vibe that Sam brought. He (emanated) a passion that no one else could match.”
Kim Raymer, series director at USASA, said she used to relish tournament days when she knew Sam would stop by and see how she was doing before a big event.
“It meant so much to us to be with him,” she said. “Many of my favorite memories at USASA was to sit with Sam at registration and talk about the day that was ahead of all of us.”
Chris “Hatch” Haslock, Park City Ski and Snowboard’s freeski program director, then shared his own experience with Jackenthal.
Hatch remembered the young freeskier’s drive to advance in the sport, as well as the consideration that Raymer had described.
“He was one of the most persevering humans I’ve known,” Haslock said. “He would never give up on anything. He would have bad days too, just like a lot of people have bad days. He would just get back up and he would say, ‘OK I’m going to do it again, I’m going to try it again.’”
When Haslock finished speaking, a member of the crowd shouted “For Sam!” and the room burst into applause.
This year, Ron Jackenthal presented the award to Henry Townshend, a Park City Ski and Snowboard skier who finished fourth in Saturday’s freeski breaker boys division among a field of 17.
Although Townshend wasn’t sure if he’d ever met Sam, the two shared a common passion.
Diminutive and shy, Townshend introduced himself in an interview by saying: “I’m 13, I’m from Park City, Utah, and I love to ski.”
Ron said the award was given to Townshend because he was outstanding in his “leadership, sportsmanship, respect to the other athletes and really embodied Sam’s spirit of positive competitiveness.”
Townshend, who has skied since he was 2, said he didn’t have any particular goals in mind for his season.
“But, I mean, I’d love to get better,” he said.
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