WINDHAM, New York ??вЂќ “It was so big – the mountain!”
So said 11 year-old Alex Swanson of Durham, N.Y., after returning from the Sports Illustrated for Kids Next Snow Search national competition in Keystone, Colorado.
“And the view is wonderful!” he added.
Alex earned his spot at the Next Snow nationals by winning the qualifying event at New York’s Windham Mountain. In total, some 156 children aged 9 to 13 qualified through local competitions nationwide.
Next Snow Search is the first all-mountain, all-equipment, all-inclusive snowsports championship. It’s not just a competition – style, attitude, and personality are also factors. Everyone competes together: boys and girls, skiers and snowboarders, and adaptive athletes.
Alex comes by his snowboarding enthusiasm honestly. Both his parents, Diana and Mike – an occupational therapist and a computer software developer respectively – teach snowboarding at Windham. But, Alex showed extra enterprise in qualifying for Snow Search.
He paid the $10 entry fee himself from money earned walking dogs. Then, “He entered without me knowing about it!” laughed Diana. “He asked me to sign a paper. We were outside the base lodge. It was freezing cold. All I did was poke the paper. He said that was good enough. I was busy [teaching] all day, and no idea how he did. A few weeks later, at a Catskill Mountain Series awards ceremony, Windham personnel told me and my husband they’d like to send Alex to Colorado.”
The Catskill Mountain Series (CMS) is a set of regional competitions in which Alex has competed successfully in recent seasons. But, he pointed out, Snow Search nationals was very different from home mountain events.
“Out there, everybody is so good,” Alex said with reverence. “They’re all doing awesome tricks. Also, out there, there were rails and jumps I’d not done before.”
Difficult, yes. But discouraging? Hardly.
“It was the first time for me doing some stuff out there,” he said. “But, that gave me more of a motive to get it. On the practice day, I was determined to get this one rail. It was a C-rail. I knew I had to get if I was going to do the competition. And I got it.”
Each young athlete is accompanied at the event by a parent. Diana won that assignment. She, in turn, invited her 74 year-old father along, creating a multi-generational mini-vacation. And, while Alex enjoyed sharing this significant experience with his elders, Diana understood when the on-snow experience held his attention.
“Alex fell in love with their park. He spent a long time in the park on the practice day. He really didn’t want me to be hanging around,” she related. “I was thrilled to be there skiing with my father, and after we left Alex in the morning, practicing in the park, I didn’t see him until 2:30 in the afternoon. He wasn’t used to the altitude, and the combination of altitude and spending so much time in the park – he almost fainted!”
Alex comported himself well in competition, however. “We watched him go through the bumps, and we saw the halfpipe and slopestyle runs,” Diana said. “Of course, I’m his mother, so I thought he did well! He was being fairly conservative – the jumps, rails and halfpipe were bigger, longer and had different shapes than at Windham. I was happy with the judgment he showed.”
In the pipe, Alex said, he doesn’t have a specific favorite trick. He leans towards “pulling 360s” and it’s “also fun to do a 180 after that. I like to switch it up.” But, in Colorado, he was operating in a park of a different scale. “The pipe was really icy,” he recalled. “I was just doing tricks on my toeside. I usually like to do indies, stalefishes’ and grabs all the way down and spin at the bottom,” he said, relating terms used for halfpipe tricks. “I tried my best, and I tried the same stuff I usually do. Considering the pipe was lot a bigger, it went okay.”
The lasting impression left by Snow Search wasn’t about competition, however. “In Snow Search,” Alex related, “you have to have the ability, but you also have to have the right attitude. At [events like] CMS, you can have the world’s worst attitude and win. They’re just judging your skill. I’ve never been to a competition like Snow Search. It’s all about attitude and having skill. It’s different and fun.”
Jack Turner, who developed the popular Snow Monsters program for kids, delivered the welcoming address to the competitors and parents. “He talked about competing, but he also said you really have to be out there just to have fun,” Alex recalled. “He said you can’t take it too seriously, and that parents should be along to have fun with their kids, too.”
Said Diana, “Jack Turner encouraged good sportsmanship – not just for the competition, but throughout their lives. He told the kids that it might be great to win in events like the X-Games, and be a phenomenal snowboarder, but if you choose to have questionable behavior, that affects everything negatively. Alex got a lot out of it. That speech alone was worth every ounce of energy and the money we put into going there.”
The weekend was filled with non-competitive activities, too, highlighted by a pizza party, freeriding, snowskating and a Saturday night torchlight parade and fireworks show. “I thought it was a really good experience for him,” Diana concluded, “for an 11 year-old boy to be considered one of best in country, to be chosen by his home mountain.”
“I know it stepped me up in my riding ability,” said Alex. “I was just out there for three days and I felt like I got better. I met some cool people out there, too.”
Having had a taste of the big time, Alex intends to compete again next year. “Of course, I’m going to try again,” he said when asked. “It was great. They might not pick me ’cause I’ve already gone. If they do, though, it’ll be awesome.”