The Sun Valley Snowboard Team may have finally outgrown the van as the favored method of mid-winter transport. With 32 riders competing this past weekend in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, team director Andy Gilbert had no choice but charter a bus.
"It was awesome," said Gilbert in an unequivocal review of the team's approach to mass transit. "Everyone was hanging out and talking. The coaches weren't tired from driving."
Gilbert accompanied team riders from the C through A teams as a way to oversee his small army of boarders. From his perch this weekend, he couldn't have been more pleased with the trajectory of his snowboard program, one of the largest in the nation.
"It's on automatic pilot right now. Kids are responding to their coaches. Parents are happy and enthusiastic. I really really like what's going on out there," he said.
Sun Valley's oldest riders are simply dominating regional competition. After watching Austin Butler turn in a lifetime run at an Olympic qualifier at Mt. Bachelor, Jens Peterson and Jeremy Black raised their own bars in response, giving Sun Valley top billing in the Open Men's class (most competitive) in all three events at Jackson.
Peterson won the opening pipe event and Sunday's slopestyle. Black, the Scotty Pippin to Peterson's Michael Jordan, answered with his own halfpipe victory on Monday.
"It was a huge win for Jeremy (Black). He's been kind of the bride's maid with those guys for a long time, but he clearly won this one," Gilbert said.
Tangible proof of the dividends earned from hard work and planning were evident everywhere Gilbert looked in the Tetons this weekend.
Riders who traveled to New Zealand's Southern Alps this past summer for training—Scott Pike, Heather and Jeremy Black, and J.J. Martin among them—are riding in top form as the team settles into a midwinter groove.
"If there's ever been a case for year round training, that was it," Gilbert said of the far-flung southern journey headed by coaches A.J. Grabos and Jacob Tyler.
For some young B and C team riders, the trip to Jackson was only the first or second day in a half-pipe all season. (Sun Valley's pipe opened this past Tuesday).
Ross Bird was one such rider, taking second place in Saturday's halfpipe competition in his breaker boys division (ages 12-13).
Hailey Rheinschild, 10, is standing out as the team's youngest hot rider, though, taking first place in both halfpipe and slopestyle competitions this weekend.
"She's fearless," Gilbert said of his youngest podium placer. In Sunday's slopestyle competition, Rheinschild was the only menehune girl (ages 10-11) to clear a 35' table top ramp jump. "She killed it," said Gilbert of the performance.
In the warm-up for Monday's second pipe contest, however, Rheinschild took a fall resulting in a broken humerus bone (upper arm). "She was denying pain killers, which for a ten-year old girl, says a lot about her character," Gilbert said.
Showing off the team's outrageous depth were young stars Chase Josey and Ryan Roemer. Josey continued his unbeaten intermountain career streak in the opening two rounds of competition before finishing second to Utah's Sam Taxwood in Monday's halfpipe. It was the first regional event where Josey did not win his age class.
Gilbert said Josey took the dose of healthy competition well. Taxwood, a ten year old Utah rider in Snowbird's program, was landing 540 spins with six feet of amplitude above the pipe rim and should provide ample competition for years to come.
Bria Gillespie was yet another bright light among the younger ranks of the Snowboard team, taking third place in all three events she competed in.
Among older boarders, girls are proving to be the strength of Sun Valley riders ages 14-17 as Heather Black, Katlyn Farrington and Katie Fiaschetti each placed in Jackson. Farrington, who is recovering from two knee surgeries in the past year, never finished worse than second and took first in the slopestyle.
"She's tough as nails," said Gilbert of the varsity Wood River soccer player who keeps winning battles with her knee.
Overall, the team is hitting its stride. "I don't think I've ever seen the team this focused," said Gilbert.
With upcoming events in Killington, Vermont for the A-team riders and a Junior Jam at New Jersey's Mountain Creek resort for Roemer and Josey, the valley's young shredders have plenty more opportunities to shine this winter.
Jackson results (best results listed):
Halfpipe: Menehune Girls (10-11): 1—Rheinschild. Boys: 1—Josey, 3—Roemer. Breaker Girls (12-13): 3—Gillespie. Boys: Bird. Youth Women (14-15): Black. Men: 3—Scott Fairfax. Junior Women (16-17): 2—Farrington, 3—Fiaschetti. Open Men: 1—Peterson, 1—Black, 4—Butler.
Slopestyle: Menehune Girls: 1—Rheinschild. Boys: 1—Josey, 3—Roemer. Breaker Girls: 3—Gillespie. Boys: 2—Colton Jones. Junior Women: 1—Farrington, 3—Fiaschetti. Open Men: 1—Peterson, 2—Black.