Don’t be surprised if you see a new pack of youngsters ripping down the hill at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (KHMR) this winter. They’ll probably be wearing bright jackets, going fairly quickly and hucking some impressive tricks in the air.
And the best part of it all? They’re not just flying around willy-nilly; these skiers are in control. This group knows the hill like the back of their hand, what position their poles should be in when they’re flying down a set of moguls and will probably be the first to stop when you look like you need a hand on the hill.
These rippers are a new generation of skiers, and thanks to the help of a group of dedicated coaches, parents and of course, the athletes themselves, they may just be part of Canada’s top athletes before the decade is over.
The Golden Alpine Rippers are a group of 12-18 year old competitive freestyle skiers who train at KHMR. This is the first year of the Rippers program, which is now the next step for skiers who have learned all they can learn from KHMR’s Freeride Connections program. There are currently 10 Rippers in the program who meet every Saturday for a day of training
Wendy Burns, one of the group’s main coaches, said the club started because a local group of skiers and parents believed there needed to be a more intensive program for freestyle skiers; one that focused on a multi-year training plan and is congruent with Freestyle Canada’s mandate that it takes ten years to develop a high performance athlete to their peak.
This, explained Burns, is why the program is focused on the teenage years.
“Another one of the big catalysts to start the club was the terrain we have here at Kicking Horse,” added Burns. “Everyone recognizes that we have some incredible terrain so no reason we shouldn’t have some amazing skiers coming out of this.”
As for competitions, the Rippers just took part in one at Red Mountain last weekend and will travel to several more this season.
Two of the four athletes advanced to the finals at the Red Mountain Competition. Sawyer Millward skied strong stuck to his line and ended up with a very respectable 11/17 in the 7-11 year age group. Owen Smith was one of two 12 year olds to advance to the finals in the 12-15 year olds he finished 27/48.
The competition has a very talented athlete pool, explained Burns, and it has a strong tradition of showcasing the talent of many well-known skiers.
“I am very proud of all our athletes performance at their first competition,” said Burns. “All our athletes had a really good time and had a great opportunity to meet and ski with other young athletes from Colorado, Montana, Fernie, Rossland and the Bow Valley. All in all it was a priceless learning opportunity.”
In competition skiers are judged first and foremost on their line choice.
“Everything depends on how well they know their line,” said Burns.
Competitors are also judged on fluidity, control, style and aggression.
“I’ve been in competitions where skiers are crying at the bottom of the hill because they fell. In one split second you can go from skiing a great line to wiping out. It can happen to anybody,” said Burns, explaining that yes, it is a competitive sport but skiers have to remember that it should be based on fun.
The Golden Alpine Rippers have four coaches, all of whom bring a different set of talents and personalities to the group.
Susan Bateman is one of the two full-time coaches. She is a former Canadian Mogul Development Team member and an “impressive skier who is very technically sound.” Bateman knows what it takes to be a competitive skier and understands the Rippers’ point of view.
Gord Kerslake, the other full-time coach, is “laid-back, unpretentious and a great skier.”
“He’s the guy who will show the kids the crazy moves, show them what can be done,” said Burns.
Mike Roy is a former member of the BC Freestyle Team. He has gone through intensive training and knows what it’s like to be coached.
“He’s the one who knows when it’s time to step back and let the kids be kids.”
Burns describes herself as a fairly competitive person. She started skiing when she was four-years-old in Lake Louise and has now been coaching the sport for 16 years. She worked for KHMR’s Freeride Connection program for four years prior to this season and knows the program is an important “feeder” program to the Rippers.
So where does Burns see the Golden Alpine Rippers in two years?
“I see our skiers recognized in the ski industry and the world,” said Burns, “and I see Kicking Horse being recognized as the mountain that made these skiers.”
Burns emphasized that the group is already starting to develop into a community and family. She explained that the coaches are not only teaching the kids freestyle skiing, but how to become respectful and dynamic members of the community — whether that be the community of KHMR, Golden or wherever these kids end up after graduating from high school.
“These are the kids that are going to stop and pick up your skis for you when you fall on the hill,” said Burns.
The Golden Alpine Rippers are grateful for the support of the Riverhouse, Taps, the Rockwater and Canyon’s Edge, all of which have donated their empty bottles to the group. A thank you goes out as well to Darkside and the Gear Exchange for having all the best gear. The Rippers are still looking for more community support. If you’re interested in helping out please call Tammy McDonough at Olson Construction.
“It’s all about synergy with the community, said Burns. “I see this club becoming fairly recognizable and a big part of Golden.”
So keep an eye out for these guys, Golden— they sure can rip.