December 31, 2013

CBMR’s Mountain Sports Team the Biggest, and Youngest, Yet


It’s only natural that a mountain known for its steeps would find a calling among the area’s youngest athletes. Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) is in its fifth season of providing a school, of sorts, for young athletes looking to “up” their game. It’s called the Mountain Sport Team (MST) and offers a comprehensive slate of programs accessible for many youngsters — from kids learning to ski or ride to driven student-athletes.

Words and Photos: Will Shoemaker, Editor at the Gunnison Times
This article will appear in the Gunnison Times January 2nd, 2014

For the first time this winter season, MST has more than 100 young athletes looking to make a splash — 69 of whom are 10 years old or younger. That’s a trend of which second-year director Woody Lindenmeyr has taken notice. “We’re capturing a lot of the younger kids in the valley, which is really exciting,” he said, adding that with the influx comes the responsibility of nurturing those athletes through their high school careers, “which is a challenge for any club.”

CBMST athletes Josie Byron, Solon Gray, Bill Klein, and Brittany Barefield with Freeride coach Will Dujardin.

CBMST athletes Josie Byron, Solon Gray, Bill Klein, and Brittany Barefield with Freeride coach Will Dujardin.

MST offers three levels of programing for skiers and snowboarders: a junior development team (7-10-year-olds); a development team (11-13-year-olds); and a competition team (typically 12 and up). Among skiers and snowboarders on the competition team, athletes are broken up into various disciplines, such as alpine race and big mountain freeride.
The competition-level big mountain freeride team (about a dozen athletes) is most active on the travel front. During the season, competitions entail jaunts to Utah, Wyoming, California, New Mexico and all over Colorado. Last year, IFSA finals were in Revelstoke, Canada.

Up-and-coming freerider Matt Evans earned numerous accolades last season — including finishing first at Sunlight, second at CBMR, second at Grand Targhee, fourth at Revelstoke and fourth overall in International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association (IFSA) standings among males 15-18 — prior to graduating from MST’s ranks. A few freeride team members are looking to pick up where Evans left off. Josie Byron finished seventh overall in the IFSA last season among women 15-18. The 18-year-old former ski racer is entering her final season with MST, with hopes of breaking into the top five overall this year.

“Having that racing background really gives me the advantage of showing that I’m a technical skier as well,” she said of one criteria by which competitors are judged. “It definitely helps a lot to know that I should turn here and, say, use a GS turn instead of a slalom turn.” Freeride is different than, say, alpine racing in that competitors are judged for their run based on certain criteria — such as fluidity, style, technique and line choice. Oz Scott, 17, is another MST member looking to improve on last season. Scott saw his highest finish (eighth) at CBMR last season. “I did some risky things,” he said of previous competitions. “This year I feel more confident in my ability. … I want to maybe be a little more conservative and look at things in terms of risk to work on staying on my feet and getting down to the bottom.”

On the alpine side of competition, Tanner Perkins, 12, and Marco Alling, 11, both placed in the top 10 last season in several races. MST also boasted the largest-ever 9-and-under male skier cross field in United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association history — 32 athletes — at a race at CBMR. Of those athletes, 14 went on to qualify for nationals, of which four placed in the top 10. Among snowboarders at nationals last year, Anika Juneau finished fifth in slopestyle, and Mabel Howard took 10th in boarder cross.

Solon Gray and Oz Scott skiing some early season pow at CBMR.

Solon Gray and Oz Scott skiing some early season pow at CBMR.

Yet, competition isn’t just for the highest tier of athletes. Junior development team members are “prescribed” as many as three competitions a season, and members get to choose their discipline. Development team members — which are beginning to focus on a specific discipline — are prescribed between three and six competitions. This season, MST has 16 coaches, excluding Lindenmeyr, who’s been involved with grooming local athletes since the mid-’90s.

“It all started when I stopped competing,” he said. “I got into judging the contests. I was struck by how good it felt to give back to the sport.” Originally from Vermont, Lindenmeyr moved to the Gunnison Valley with sights set on skiing. He graduated from Western State Colorado University in 1994 and never left. Lindenmeyr entered his first big mountain competition in 1992, which led to working with photographers and film crews. Later, Lindenmeyr was approached by leaders of the Crested Butte Academy about establishing a freeride team with his wife, pro big mountain skier Wendy Fisher.

In 2008, CBMR took over the program previously run by the academy — opening the doors of accessibility, as Lindenmeyr explains, to more local skiers and snowboarders.
For MST participants, he said, it’s not all about who can ski the fastest or stick the most outlandish trick. “The biggest perk for anyone to come out of our program with is a set of life skills,” Lindenmeyr explained. “I don’t care if they don’t develop into the greatest skier in the world. Of course, that’s always great. But overriding that is becoming a great individual — having a good attitude, learning how to discipline yourself and manage your time, having really good judgment.”

Yet, for the highest caliber of athletes, Lindenmeyr recognizes that MST has its limits. One such example is 17-year-old halfpipe phenom Aaron Blunck, who earned first place at Dec. 20’s Olympic-qualifying Copper Mountain Grand Prix. A few years ago, Blunck had already progressed to the point that continuing to train in Crested Butte simply didn’t make sense. He’s since based himself at Vail. “It was tough for me to recommend another club for him to go train at,” Lindenmeyr admitted. “(Blunck) definitely maxed out here, and the logistics of traveling from the valley were very difficult for his competition schedule. And we just didn’t have that many athletes in his discipline. I knew that he needed to have that camaraderie of a team, and he wasn’t getting that here.”

With the recent win, Blunck is poised for greatness at the Sochi Olympics this winter, which kick off Feb. 6. MST’s success in recent years, Lindenmeyr hopes, should result in fertile ground for other such local athletes. “Now that we have opened the door to the local talent pool, so to speak, the sky’s the limit really,” he said.


Author Bio: Will Shoemaker

bio_mug_shoemakerWill Shoemaker is a journalist who has called the Gunnison Valley home since 2002. He loathes being indoors, preferring instead to have his ass handed to him in wild places throughout the West. Whether mountain biking, backcountry snowboarding or hunting big game, Will is constantly on the quest for new adventure — and, when opportunity arises, portraying the culture of those pursuits to the masses.


About the Author

2. Will Dujardin
Will Dujardin is our content editor at West Elk Project. He competes in big mountain competitions and coaches the Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team. Skiing is his life and he likes to mix it with other fun things like DH mountain biking and traveling.