The day started with a flurry of text messages after a storm dumped more than a foot of snow on Aspen Mountain.
Normally on Wednesdays, Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club coach Tim Ward would be meeting his group of 10- to 12-year-old snowboarders in the afternoon to practice tricks on the club’s airbag at Aspen Highlands. This Wednesday, though, the kids had a snow day, and it was time to ride some powder.
“We kind of made an early call this morning ... at 7 a.m. to some kids and some parents,” Ward said. “You take these days when you can.”
I met up with the native New Zealander Ward, 33, and a group of snowboarders in time for their second lap of the day. We rode to the top of Buckhorn at Aspen Mountain, where Ward had them pick buddies whom they would board with all day and watch out for. Then we cruised over to Midway Road and did a run down North American, where most of the snowboarders launched off some rollers, some landing, some not. Either way, they were all pretty happy that the snow was soft.
“What do you notice about riding powder?” Ward asked the group. He told them they might put more weight on their back foot. One boy piped up and said he noticed he had to stay stronger in his legs.
At the bottom of the run, Ward led the group to a dump in a thicket of trees where they each got a chance to take a jump.
With Aspen schools closed Wednesday because of the snowfall, the snowboarders in the group included some of the athletes Ward normally coaches and some whom he doesn’t. Ward has been working fulltime for AVSC for three years, and he has coached roughly the same group of kids every season. He’ll likely stay with them “until they graduate out of the program,” he said.
AVSC divides its snowboarders into five categories. Ward is one of three coaches who primarily concentrate on and work with the Devo-2 (Development 2) teams, in which the snowboarders compete in regional events and participate in most of the disciplines, such as slopestyle, halfpipe and slalom. As they progress in the program, those athletes will choose an event to specialize in. Many athletes who have gone through AVSC’s programs have gone on to compete in — and accomplish great things in — various national and international events, such as the Olympics and the Winter X Games.
“Some of the kids have aspirations to be specialized snowboarders; some just want to hang out with their friends and do something awesome,” Ward said.
AVSC coaches focus on fundamentals with all of their young athletes. Even the most difficult tricks can be broken down into basic steps, Ward said.
“I like to use the Jenga analogy,” Ward said. You have to have a good foundation “if you want the tower to grow.”
Competition starts Dec. 15 for Ward’s team. The United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association has a snowboard series here. That, along with other regional series throughout the country, is a qualifying events for the association’s nationals (at Copper Mountain on March 29 through April 4), which many AVSC athletes will likely compete in this year.
“It’s more (about) developing relationships with the kids and mentoring them and helping them grow as people, as well,” Ward said. “We grow really good people first and really good athletes second. ... I feel very blessed to have that opportunity to participate in these young people’s lives so much.”