Hucking midgets, screaming parents, and a ridiculously manicured course! It all came together for some high drama marking the culmination of over 1,600 riders' seasons at the USASA Nationals, held March 28th through April 5th at Copper Mountain, CO. While competitors range in age from 7 and under in the Ruggle group to 60 and over in the Methuselah group, the majority of riders, along with the most heated competition and best entertainment, are groms and they showed some incredible talent in halfpipe, slopestyle, boardercross, gs and slalom.
Reaching this level of competition is the culmination of years of training, hundreds of contests, and tons of travel for a group that primarily won't be able to drive for years.
For me, the first day of the event was the culmination of one hell of a morning. We were staying in Avon the night before and popped in for some breakfast in Eagle-Vail on our way to Copper. As we were getting our check, an elderly man, who was stranded with a broken-down car, had a massive seizure with his eggs. After a good thirty seconds of not breathing and turning blue, he came back from the dead. He was well on his way to choking, and later in the day I found this to be a pretty fitting start to the fear I saw on a sea full of parents' faces.
Watching these kids shred and hang out with each other is a glimpse of what snowboarding is and should be - fun. That's all. They're super stoked for their most heated rivals and are laughing and congratulating each other after every run, whether practice or finals, as they should be. But amongst the fun and comradery, lurks a well-meaning specter, the shredder parent. Akin to soccer moms, this breed is so focused on making their kid the next Shaun White, that post-run pep talks sound more like a drill sergeant or Ivan Drago's coach expounding on the virtues of landing a 900 next time – or else.
For many of us in this sport, we started as a way to avoid organized sports and their confining pressure. It was a way to rebel and express ourselves. So what happens with this new breed of rider? Do they rebel and go out for the football team? Do they join the debate team? What I saw at this event from most of the kids, even the ones who had just been screamed at or had their moms stop the final award show to scream at the judges about their inherent incompetence, was a strong focus on ripping it up and having a great time. As soon as the talks were over the kids seemed to bounce back. I'd like to think this is due to the undeniable power of snowboarding, which puts a smile on your face whether you're riding powder, or competing in a pipe that looks forty feet tall because you only stand 2'11."
But I digress. The USASA's goal is "to promote safe, fair, & fun events while fostering a competitive spirit in the snowboard athletes." It's a training ground that helps develop mini-jams athletically and competitively and is part of the road to the Olympic Games. In fact the riders who swept the 2002 games in SLC all got their start here, and I know I saw the future of our sport, and hopefully a lot more US medal sweeps at Copper this week.
For full results and more info on the USASA, visit the official Web site HERE.