At its roots, snowboarding is not a competitive sport. More of a high five-laden activity you do with your friends than an ultra-competitive one, the feeling of hot laps with a good group is unlike any other. But as the sport has evolved, there’s no way a semblance of competitiveness wasn’t going to bust the door down.
But it’s not like that level of compete is bad for the sport. Far from it! If Travis Rice didn’t have his drive, we wouldn’t be blessed with the unspeakable things he does on his snowboard (see: Flight, The Art of). Competitiveness pushes friends to be better, which in turn helps the sport, which in turn gets more people on snowboards. Everybody wins.
USASA - the United States of America Snowboarding Association - rolled the dice on competitive snowboarding in the 1980s and hasn’t looked back since. The genesis of its vision came about when Chuck Allen wanted an all-encompassing competitive circuit for snowboarding. Now, more than 25 years later, USASA continues to be the dominant competitive organization for amateur snowboarders across the country.
Ellicottville is blessed to be able to support and maintain two awesome resorts. HoliMont, which owns bragging rights as the largest private ski club in North America, is home to a cornucopia of young snowboarding talent. Snowboard team coach Chris Naugle, who competed in USASA himself back in the day, couples commitment with fun to create an environment that breeds success.
“It’s simple: snowboarding is about having fun,” Naugle said. “Our focus is getting the kids to have fun. We want to push them to be better snowboarders, obviously. But if they’re not having fun doing it, then what’s the point?”
One of Naugle’s team riders, Magnus Hambleton, rides both hardboot (carving boards) and freestyle. A native of Oakville, Ontario, Magnus got his start racing skis - until his parents enticed him to try snowboarding. Magnus is a full time snowboarder now.
“I started doing Christmas camps (on a snowboard) when I was 10,” Magnus said. “Then the next year, I went full snowboarding. It’s the greatest thing ever.
Learning multiple disciplines in any sport is difficult, but it especially rings true for snowboarding. On a freestyle board, you’re wearing typical snowboarding boots - with your feet 20-25 inches apart and each foot at an angle of 15º or less (all of these numbers vary by individual rider). On an alpine board, you’re wearing hardboots (like ski boots) with your feet at crazy forward angles to allow you to lay turns down without toe/heel drag.
HoliMont’s coaches have adapted to teaching both disciplines, which is beneficial for a rider like Magnus. He can maintain what he’s doing on his alpine board, all the while getting better on freestyle-driven terrain. (*Writer’s note: Magnus tried out for his high school snowboard team, and had the best time on his Alpine board. Nice job, Magnus!)
USASA will make stops at Holiday Valley, HoliMont and Peek’n Peak Resort this winter for multiple events in the WNY Series. Added to the Holiday Valley stop this year is a Banked Slalom (if you don’t know what this is, Google the Legendary Banked Slalom). HV terrain park manager Mike Nenno is looking forward to dialing in the competition circuit.
“We love playing host to the USASA events,” Nenno said. “It’s great to see so many kids out competing in an effort to better themselves and make it to Nationals.”
Holiday Valley will open up the Series on Jan. 10 with 2 parallel slaloms. Competitors will shift over to HoliMont the following day for giant slaloms; every competitor’s goal: to place on top at each event, garnering points which will ultimately earn them a spot to compete at Nationals.
Nationals, held at Copper Mountain in Colorado, allows qualifying youngsters to compete against the rest of the country’s USASA competitors. It’s awesome to see so much local talent represented.
“We’ve had numerous athletes make it to Nationals,” Naugle said. “I think it’s a testament to how awesome our kids are and how much compete they have in them. They come to the hill every weekend and they want to progress, they want to get better. Nationals is a crazy time - lots of kids, lots of scheduling - but when it’s all said and done, the kids are happy because they won and had a blast … it’s all worth it.”
“I actually got sick my first time out at Nationals,” Magnus said, referring to altitude sickness. “But last year was awesome. It’s so much fun. You’re meeting new people, the courses are bigger and faster, and it didn’t hurt that it snowed a ton when we were out there (pow day!).”
Competitive snowboarding is stronger now than ever. With riders like Magnus, who are mastering both disciplines, snowboarders will only get better. And with coaches like Naugle, progression will never end. It’s the endless cycle that keeps our sport fresh.