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Idaho's Road to Gold

First local USASA series funnels into national champs

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For competitive skiers and snowboarders, the number of competitive events in which to compete has increased dramatically over the last few years. No longer are athletes limited to simply racing down the mountain. Now, participants can see what they are made of in events like slopestyle, superpipe, and skier and boarder crosses—all events with a modern edge that reflect the X-games ethos of extreme fun.

The proliferation of more extreme competitive events for mountain dare devils has been helped in part by the United States Amateur Snowboard Association (USASA), an organization that has been involved with snowboarding from the beginning, acting as a governing body for local and national competitions. And in recent years, the USASA has extended invitations to skiers who participate in non-mainstream versions of the sport (slopestyle, superpipe and skier cross).

In 1990, the USASA began hosting annual national championships to give the country's creme de la creme a place to compete. These national competitions now serve as a pipeline to feed Olympic teams. They have also been a place for would-be X-gamers to earn their invitation to ESPN's yearly event.

This year's national championship event takes place March 27 through April 1 at Northstar-at-Tahoe. The event will be huge and the competition fierce with more than 1,300 athletes vying to be national champion in their respected divisions. And being a champion is not just about winning accolades and bragging rights. Myriad prizes are doled out to champs, and sponsors are on the prowl to court division winners with sponsorship deals.

Past competitors at USASA's nationals have included some of the best riders in the world, including athletes Ross Powers, Lindsey Jacobellis and Olympic he-man Shaun White. Steve Van Doren, president of VAN's shoes (one of the guys who hands out sponsorships to worthy riders), said, "USASA represents the grassroots of snowboarding. All the future pros come up from the USASA."

However, locally, getting to the pros from Idaho has seemed a distant and often confusing target. In the past, to qualify for USASA's nationals, Idaho athletes have had to drive all over the Northwest to compete on mountains in Oregon, Washington and Utah. The amount of traveling has been a hindrance for many of the would-be competitors—especially considering that many of the kids competing aren't even old enough to have a driver's license. Without in-state USASA competitions, Idaho boarders and skiers have typically been underrepresented at USASA's nationals. However, this season, with the help of Idaho's Tamarack Resort and Brundage Mountain Resort, USASA is holding its first series of competitions: the Payette River Valley Snowboard Series.

The series began on December 17 with a boarder cross race at Brundage, and continued on weekends throughout January and February with races in slopestyle, superpipe slalom and giant slalom. March brings a close to the series mid-month with final races in all of the events happening over the next two weekends.

Boarders from ages 4 to 74 have a slew of age groups in which to compete, while skiers are limited to two broad age groups: 15 and under and 16 and over.

Interested in competing? It's easy. Just show up and register the day of the competition. According to Randy Hall, Tamarack's mountain events coordinator, the registration process is much simpler now than it was when competitors had to travel out-of-state.

"Before the kids in Boise had to become part of the Intermountain Series [a series of qualifying events]. Now, the kids just show up, get a membership from USASA, pay their entry fee and compete." For those who aren't interested in going to nationals, they can just compete in the freeride portion of the event.

Saturday, March 4, Tamarack hosts the final slopestyle events where the course consists of a series of jumps at the top of the run and then a series of rails. On Sunday, March 5, Tamarack hosts the final superpipe event. Athletes will make a run down a massive half-pipe doing tricks along the way. Catch the final slalom and giant slalom events on Sunday, March 12, at Brundage and the final boarder and skier cross events on Saturday, March 18.

Competitors and organizers describe the vibe of the typical events as low-key—imagine some good-natured one-upping between friends with parents cheering from the base of the superpipe. "The superpipe is really easy to get to, so I anticipate we'll see a lot of parents show up to cheer their kids on," said Hall.

Local 15-year-old snowboarder Carlee Beavers, who is planning to compete, told BW, "People are really excited about it. It is going to be so fun to just hang out and watch." She said there are a couple of competitors to keep an eye on. Her pick? Max Sherrow, a slopestyle skier who is a junior at Boise High School.

"It's so good to see local mountains do this to support the kids. It is such a great way to meet new friends and compete; even if it's for the first time. It is such a good thing," Beavers said.

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