Park City teen freeskier James Kanzler qualifies for World Cup
He took home first place in slopestyle at the 2021 World Rookie Freeski Finals
Standing on top of the podium, skier James Kanzler was starting to feel a little out of place. Never the center of attention, Kanzler, 17, took home first place in slopestyle at the 2021 World Rookie Freeski Finals in Hintertux, Austria, in late April to qualify for next season’s FIS World Cup. But at the same time, it was starting to hit him that he would soon be competing on one of the sport’s biggest stages alongside skiers he had watched since he was a kid.
“It’s definitely a little almost uncomfortable to be on the top of the podium, but at the same time you feel so relieved and super excited,” Kanzler said. “I definitely felt like I should have been there because of how hard I, I guess, pushed myself.”
To Park City Ski & Snowboard coach Kevin Bane, the shy, cool-as-a-cucumber persona is just James being James.
“He’s pretty quiet and reserved and you might not see him and think, ‘Oh, this kid’s probably a crazy skier,’” Bane said. “He looks like a completely normal kid, and then you see him get out skiing and he’s on another level, really… he’s quiet, soft-spoken and, you know, speaks with his actions.”
If anything, his actions in Austria spoke of a teenager who isn’t afraid to go big and win at all costs. There was only one spot on the World Cup up for grabs in Austria, so Kanzler did the math and realized that there was zero risk in trying to throw down the best run possible. Do so, and you can end up on the World Cup; anything else might as well be last place.
“I decided that, since it was the finals and I considered it an all-or-nothing competition, I was going to try to do like the best trick I could on each of the features,” Kanzler said. “But then going down the course, there was — as soon as I landed my run, got all my tricks dialed in and practiced and everything and landed it in the run — it was a really good feeling. It was super nice.”
Kanzler’s winning run consisted of an unnatural double cork 1080, a natural double cork 1260, a switch bio 900 and a 270 spin onto a rail and then a 270 spin in the opposite direction to close it out.
“The jumps there, I’m not trying to complain, but they were definitely a little small, so it took everything I had on each of the jumps,” he said. “But as soon as I did them in practice, I definitely felt super confident with my run.”
There is still more to Kanzler’s repertoire. On a recent trip to Switzerland, he became one of a small handful to land a triple cork 1800 (three off-axis rotations and five full spins). He is also the “second or third” person, according to Bane, to land back-to-back triple corks in both directions, a feat Bane says is “the equivalent of throwing a ball with your unnatural hand.”
“It’s very difficult to learn, so these guys are starting at a young age spinning in both directions, so that by the time they’re, in James’ case, 16 years old, they hardly have a preferred direction,” Bane said.
Kanzler, who is set to graduate from the Winter Sports School in November, recalls a time when he watched a top pro in practice and was blown away, saying that it was “like playing a video game.” The prospect of skiing alongside established pros is still starting to set in, but it’s a welcome challenge.
“For me to be in the World Cup circuit at a young age is definitely a little intimidating, but at the same time, it’s definitely like one of my dreams to see all of my idols ski and I get to train and compete with them.” he said. “
Bane was the one to inform Kanzler that he had won the competition and qualified for the World Cup. Kanzler came off the lift and asked if he had won. Despite the fact that his second run scored lower, he still clinched first place, and Bane just met him with a smile.
“I had the biggest smile on my face, and I still don’t know if he knew or not,” Bane said. “And I told him, and he was ecstatic, which if you ever get a chance to meet James, it’s like he doesn’t really show much emotion at all, he’s pretty level-headed. But I’d have to say that that’s the happiest I’ve seen him.”
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