IFSA Juniors Finish Season at North American Championships at Grand Targhee Resort
By: William Dujardin
In a season plagued by low snow and short winters, the IFSA concluded its third year of independent junior competitions at the North American Championships at Grand Targhee Resort, Wyoming. The event was the culmination of a long season that saw events cancelled or postponed because of low snow and even too much snow. Over April 8th-11th weekend, the top 10% of junior athletes, pulled from the National and Regional rankings, demonstrated an elite level of skiing, really impressive, technical skiing and snowboarding in great snow.
IFSA graduates and athletes have been making waves in the ski scene the last couple seasons, capped off recently by former Overall IFSA Junior Champion, 21 year-old George Rodney winning the 2015 Freeride World Tour with impressive victories at Andorra and Haines, AK. Meanwhile, his younger contemporaries and fellow former champions, 19-year-olds Martin Lentz (2014) and Trace Cooke (2013) qualified in 2nd and 3rd for the Americas Region in the Freeride World Qualifier behind another 19-year-old IFSA Collegiate Freeride Series athlete, Tim Durtschi. Not to mention Ian Borgeson's ridiculous run on the legendary Bec Des Rosses in Verbier last year and podiums by Francesca Pavillard-Cain and Silas Chickering-Ayers in the last few years as more evidence of rising dominance of IFSA and JFT graduates on the Freeride World Tour.
Slot's in for Berkely Patterson - Photo: Chris Saito
These junior athletes are constantly raising the bar whether in classic, chalky, hard-pack conditions, more variable packed powder conditions, melt/freeze conditions, or even the rare powder conditions. Earlier this winter, IFSA athletes made their way to Granvilara, Andorra just after a fat pow cycle for the Freeride Junior World Championships, the first of its kind that truly had the best North American and European junior athletes competing against each other. IFSA athletes were able to walk away with 2 victories with Jacqueline Pollard of Altabird Freeride taking the Women's Ski and Dylan Zellers of the Squaw Valley Big Mountain Team winning the Men's Snowboard.
Incoming with Josh Gold - Photo: Emmett McLaulin
As the season continued, the top 10% of IFSA junior athletes made their way to the 160 athlete field at the North American Championships at Grand Targhee Resort, in view of the towering Tetons. Athletes from all over the Western US and Canada flocked to "the 'ghee" with a few Eastern US athletes and even a French Snowboarder, Gabrielle Beche from Chamonix, making the trip. The "Reliable" venue was ready to rock through 3 days of competition sprinkled with light dustings of a couple of inches that kept the venue surprisingly fresh.
The trio of veteran head judges, Jeff Holden, Johnny Manwaring, and Brant Moles, expounded upon the importance of technical, clean skiing in the athlete meetings and it showed in their scores. The leaders of the 8 various divisions all put down rock solid runs over Thursday and Friday's action. The Reliable Venue is always a fun venue littered with features. This year's low snowpack showed even more rocks and hits offering some creative combinations and airs. Many athletes opted for the large cornice single, a strong 20-25 foot air at the top of the venue, but if they had any sort of issue putting the landing gear down or making their next turn they were docked for it. The overall top two 15-18 ski males, Sam Kuch of Whitewater Freeride Team, BC, and Xander Guldman of Sugar Bowl Freeride, CA, found themselves in in 3rd and 2nd, respectively, behind another Whitewater Freeride Team athlete, Dale Cushway setting the way for a big finals day.
The finals on Saturday returned to a stiffer Reliable venue as the athletes' hard pack prowess shined. Olivia Mcneill of the Whistler Freeride Club took the victory in the 12-14 Ski Female category after battling it out with pair of Squaw Valley Big Mountain Team members Ava Seelenfreund and Jane Nall who finished in 2nd and 3rd, respectively, out of 15 athletes. In 15-18 Female Snowboard, the aforementioned Gabrielle Beche finished 2nd behind Jenna Paller of the Snowbird Snowboard Team.
Hank Kennedy ripping big lines for big rewards - Photo: Emmett McLaulin
In the 12-14 Snowboard Male division, Lucas Stanfield of Taos Freeride took 3rd, Tucker Pratt of the Snowbird Snowboard Team 2nd, and Jesse Aves of the Squaw Alpine Snowboard Team took 1st with the two highest scoring runs of the 9-deep field. Five Americans topped the deep 12-14 Ski Male field with Cooper Patterson of Seattle, WA finishing in 5th, Trempealeau Morninglight of Taos Freeride in 4th, Leif Mumma of Alyeska Ski Club in 3rd, Cooper Davis of Sugar Bowl Freeride in 2nd, and Alex Lundstrom of Altabird Freeride winning.
The story repeated itself in the 15-18 Ski Male field after 5 of the top 10 faltered, many falling victim to bad transition landings at the bottom of the venue that were flatter than expected. Justin Carpenter of Altabird Freeride surged from 21st to 5th; Ross Tester of Squaw Valley Big Mountain Team climbed even higher from 23rd to 4th; Parkin Costain of Whitefish, MT had 2 sick runs for 3rd place; Jack Nichols of Ski Club Vail sent the top cornice and had a creative, high-speed triple for 2nd place while first place went to the subsequent overall IFSA champion, Xander Guldman of Sugar Bowl Freeride, who sent huge airs, regularly landing like he never left the ground.
Ava Seelenfreund lays out the cold smoke - Photo: Chris Saito
The 15-18 Female Ski division was super consistent with 6 points separating the top 13 out of 21 going into finals. Jasper Vanspoore of Big Sky Freeride ended up victorious, followed by Sydney Ricketts of Altabird Freeride in 2nd, Mia Winans of Squawfree in 3rd, Jess Sterrett of Salt Lake City, UT in 4th and claiming Overall IFSA Champion, and the Haley Cooke of Whitewater Freeride in 5th. The 15-18 Snowboard Male podium had Hank Kennedy of Glacier, WA in 3rd, Adam Redling of Winter Park Snowboarding in 2nd, and the Andorra FWJC Champion and Overall IFSA Champion, Dylan Zellers of the Squaw Valley Big Mountain Team in 1st after a dominating season and the top two runs in the division of 11 athletes.
At the end of the season, the IFSA awards the Jim Jack Mayor of Freeride Award, a peer-voted award that recognizes the athlete who best embodies the spirit of camaraderie, athleticism, and sportsmanship within the IFSA. It honors Jim Jack, the former head judge and president of the IFSA who tragically passed away in an avalanche in 2012. This year's recipients were Ryan Tagawa of Winter Park Big Mountain and Brendan Kelly Whitewater Freeride Team.
After the North American Championships, the Overall IFSA Champions were crowned. Overall points included 2 National events, 2 Regional Events, and the Championship event:
12-14 Female Ski out of 77 Participants
1. Austin Obourn – Ski Club Vail – 3631 pts.
2. Anna Thompson – Northwest Freeride – 3423 pts.
3. Sydney Gradeff – Sugar Bowl Freeride – 3382 pts.
4. Jane Nall – Squaw Valley Big Mountain – 3249 pts.
5. Olivia Mcneill – Whistler Freeride Club – 3085 pts.
12-14 Female Snowboard out of 3 Participants
1. Mia Farley – Winter Park Big Mountain Team – 2000 pts.
2. Sofia Hanssen-Keller – Stevens Pass Freeride Team – 500 pts.
3. Camille Richards – Park City, UT – 500 pts.
12-14 Male Ski of 304 Participants
1. Alex Lundstrom – Altabird Freeride – 3335 pts.
2. Leif Mumma – Alyeska Ski Club -2951 pts.
3. Cooper Davis – Sugar Bowl Freeride – 2918 pts.
4. Finn Andersson – Ski Club Vail – 2890 pts.
5. Aiden Pruett – Altabird Freeride – 2794 pts.
6. Josh Gold – Squawfree – 2765 pts.
7. Louis Overington – Altabird Freeride – 2747 pts.
8. Jesse Thurston – Whitewater Freeride – 2706 pts.
9. Trempealeau Morninglight – Taos Freeride – 2646 pts.
10. Hank Bates – Altabird Freeride – 2617 pts.
12-14 Male Snowboard out of 35 Participants
1. Tucker Pratt – Snowbird Snowboard Team – 3748 pts.
2. Cole Miller – Team Summit – 3575 pts.
3. Dylan Spillar – Taos Freeride – 2839 pts.
4. Jesse Aves – Squaw Alpine Snowboard Team – 2775 pts.
5. Cole Mossman – Winter Park Snowboarding – 2469 pts.
15-18 Female Ski out of 87 Participants
1. Jess Sterrett – Salt Lake City, UT – 3376 pts.
2. Mia Winans – Squawfree – 3322 pts.
3. Jasper Vanspoore – 3318 pts.
4. Eliza Donahue – Taos Freeride – 3120 pts.
5. Carlene Loughlin – Whistler Freeride Club – 3040 pts.
6. Sydney Ricketts – Altabird Freeride – 2952 pts.
7. Gracely Speth – Big Sky Freeride – 2903 pts.
8. Savannah Leishman – Whitewater Freeride Team – 2897 pts.
9. Haley Cooke – Whitewater Freeride Team – 2856 pts.
10. Emma Patterson – Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team – 2805 pts.
11. Olivia Askew – Altabird Freeride – 2683 pts.
12. Annika Winans – Squawfree – 2659 pts.
13. Brittany Barefield – Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team – 2620 pts.
14. Jacqueline Pollard – Altabird Freeride – 2587 pts.
15. Edie Mason – Altabird Freeride – 2842 pts.
15-18 Female Snowboard out of 2 Participants.
1. Jenna Paller – Snowbird Snowboard Team – 4250 pts.
2. Gabrielle Beche – Chamonix, France – 1044 pts.
15-18 Ski Male out 331 Participants
1. Xander Guldman – Sugar Bowl Freeride – 4084 pts.
2. Sam Kuch – Whitewater Freeride Team – 3304 pts.
3. Grifen Moller – Team Summit – 3222 pts.
4. Jack Nichols – Ski Club Vail – 3151 pts.
5. Justin Carpenter – Altabird Freeride – 3060 pts.
6. Jackson Bathgate – Whistler, BC – 2987 pts.
7. Sam Woodward – Whitewater Freeride Team – 2771 pts.
8. Pierce Mccrerey – Team Summit – 2692 pts.
9. Ross Tester – Squaw Valley Big Mountain Team – 2615 pts.
10. Parkin Costain – Whitefish Mountain Resort – 2327 pts.
11. Kevin Nichols – Ski Club Vail – 2294 pts.
12. Jeff Ashton – Whitewater Freeride Team – 2265 pts.
13. Seth Klein – Altabird Freeride – 2245 pts.
14. Tom Peiffer – Whistler Freeride Club – 2109 pts.
15. Bennett Drummond – Alpine Big Mountain – 2070 pts.
15-18 Snowboard Male out of 29 participants
1. Dylan Zellers – Squaw Valley Big Mountain Team – 3774 pts.
2. Tobias Rosenberg – Big Sky Freeride – 3096 pts.
3. Hank Kennedy – Glacier, WA – 2923 pts.
4. Noah Perkovich – Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club – 2837 pts.
5. Sam Shinkle – Squaw Valley Big Mountain Team – 2639 pts.
6. Adam Redling – Winter Park Snowboarding – 2616 pts.
7. Nick Schmidt – Winter Park Big Mountain Team – 2371 pts.
8. Andrew Kraatz – Alpine Big Mountain – 2303 pts.
9. Ben Smith – Team Utah Snowboarding – 2301 pts.
10. Caleb Mcfall – Team Utah Snowboarding – 1670 pts.
Xander Guldman boosting it up and over - Photo: Chris Saito
Capturing the overall title in the overall title for the IFSA season is no easy feat. Jess Sterrett of Salt Lake City, Utah has managed to do it for the past three years, setting the standard for the women's field and bringing up the rest of the competition as a result: "Experiencing the feeling of winning the past two years really pushed me to try for the top spot again... What brought me back every year are all the amazing friendships and bonds I have made. It means so much to be part of this freeride family and I can't wait to see what the future holds for myself and all my friends I have made on the tour."
The 15-18 Male Ski and Snowboard champions, both Truckee, CA natives, Xander Guldman and Dylan Zellers, are, surprisingly, both juniors in high school and still have a year left, which shows the depth of the junior IFSA field. Dylan took the world by storm this year, winning the FWJC in Andorra and the IFSA North American Championships in snowboarding. He says: "I just want to keep progressing the sport in the best way I know how... for me being able to snowboard and be on the top of my game, competing against athletes that I don't view as competition, but more of a push and inspiration over all else, is the most incredible thing! So winning is amazing, all the hype you get from people and the excitement of the road to the top and finally being here is a new element of an exquisite feeling. But that's not what feels so good, it's the fact that I'm with people I love and regardless that no matter what happens they have my back and are there for support. The same goes from me to them." Xander expressed similar sentiments: "The camaraderie among athletes at IFSA events is unparalleled. In most sports there is a mentality of one individual, or team, against everyone else, but freeride encompasses a sense of greater community in which every single person is cheering on everyone else. The IFSA nurtures a safe, competitive environment in which everyone is still having a great time."
Freeride family finish - Photo: Emmett McLaulin
Theses athletes aren't just elite competitors but it seems like they have good heads on their shoulders, too. Going forward they have the FWT in sights and have to balance college life. "I'm attending Cal Poly for mechanical engineering and would like compete at Collegiate Freeride Series events depending on my schedule. I would like to get to the FWT eventually," Jess explained. "I've looked up to guys like George Rodney, Trace Cooke, and Martin Lentz and to now hold the same title they once did is incredible... Reaching the FWT has always been a goal of mine, so I will do my best to work my way through the qualifiers once I'm done with the juniors," stated Xander. Dylan concluded, "Honestly, I can't express how lucky I feel to have found the freeride family... I just want to follow the path that lets me pursue the sport I love so much!"
We wish all IFSA athletes the best of luck in training for the upcoming season and especially the graduating athletes moving forward in this crucial transition in their lives. See you next season!
Click HERE for full Season Overall Rankings
Click HERE for full event results
Click HERE for event photos and videos