AVSC big mountain skiers Yang, Cherney to compete at freeride junior worlds
Bodhi Yang and Orion Cherney each qualified based off their consistent results in the North American regional competitions last winter
Bodhi Yang and Orion Cherney both look up to the next generation of big mountain skiers, with their free-flowing runs that have led to a lot of recent success on the Freeride World Tour.
And if all keeps going as it has, those skiers they admire so much could very well become peers sooner than later.
“There is a new generation of freeride skiers that have come from more of a freestyle background and have had great success, direct, no lag coming from whatever discipline they had, directly into the Freeride World Tour and winning,” said Johnny Rossman, the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club’s big mountain coach.
“The pipeline that these guys are following has been consistently working and breeding champions from all over the world.”
Yang and Cherney, both currently AVSC athletes, were recently invited to compete at the 11th edition of the Freeride Junior World Championship, to be held from Jan. 23 to 26 at the Austrian ski resort of Kappl, in the Tyrolian Alps. It’s a first for the AVSC freeride program, itself only now pushing a decade of existence.
Yang and Cherney each qualified based off their consistent results in the North American regional competitions last winter.
“It’s going to be all the best junior skiers in the world,” Cherney said. “But we’ve had the opportunity to compete against approximately half of them, so we sort of know what we are getting into.”
Cherney, the teleskier
Cherney, 18, graduated from Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale this past spring. He’s currently taking a gap year to pursue competitive skiing and plans to attend Middlebury College in Vermont next year. He’s still figuring out his area of study.
His background is largely in teleskiing, and according to both he and Rossman, Cherney will only be the second teleskier to compete at junior worlds.
“I mainly did it because that’s what my dad did back then. As a first grader, that’s kind of what you do. But I always enjoyed it,” Cherney said of his teleskiing roots. “AVSC is pretty much the only tele team out competing at these things. So that’s really for me the coolest part.”
Cherney has been lucky enough to train alongside some of the country’s best teleskiers over his life, many of them having direct Aspen ties. That list includes Jake Saxson, Nick DeVore, Tim Shepard and Kayo Ogilby, who is the coach at CRMS.
He credits their influence in helping him become one of the discipline’s rising talents.
“I’ve had the honor of being able to train with some of the most successful teleskiers at the time, while they were the most successful teleskier, which has definitely helped me a lot,” Cherney said.
Yang, the filmmaker
Yang is currently a junior at Aspen High School. He said he took a traditional path through AVSC when younger, which has the athletes get a taste for many of the different disciplines. For Yang, there was something about big mountain skiing that stuck more than the others.
While a talented skier, Yang might be best known for his talents as a filmmaker. In 2018, at only 12 years old, he won the NEPSA — Aspen Skiing Co.’s annual ski film award — for a video he made alongside his friends about climate change, with the assistance of local filmmaker Andy Curtis.
Yang wants to pursue bigger ski film projects after high school, while seeing where this competitive skiing thing can also take him.
“I wasn’t really shooting for this goal at the start of the season,” Yang said of qualifying for junior worlds last winter, his first competing in the 15 to 19 age division.
“I didn’t expect I would be able to do this well. And then each competition came and I took them one by one and focused on them without shooting for this big, overall goal. I ended up doing pretty consistently and pretty well in some. I won one comp, the Crested Butte one, and then made it to NorAms, skied pretty strongly there, and ended up with a seventh there, which got me the overall result to get to junior worlds.”
A bigger stage
Neither Yang nor Cherney have ever competed in Europe. In fact, they admitted they have never been to the European mainland in the winter, so junior worlds is going to be an eye-opening experience for both.
“There are fundamental differences competing in North America and Europe. There are slightly different rules. The competitor field is actually a little bit smaller (in Europe), but slightly more geared toward results based,” Rossman said. “It’s a total production. The sport of freeriding really originated in Europe.”
January’s standalone competition is the ultimate proving ground for the best junior skiers in the world, with Yang and Cherney now officially among that pack. Cherney hopes to compete in the Freeride World Tour qualifiers going forward, with dreams of making it onto the FWT circuit. The younger Yang is taking a slower approach, not wanting to fall behind on his rigorous academic studies.
“I’ve been putting in a bunch of work in the gym, getting strong,” Yang said. “I’ve been reviewing some of the runs of past years on that venue, trying to get into where I might ski as much as possible. You definitely can’t figure that all out before you get there, but I’m doing some homework and looking into it before going.”
Hardly the first
While Cherney and Yang may be AVSC pioneers when it comes to getting to junior worlds, they are hardly the first from the Roaring Fork Valley to find success in the sport. At the top of that list is George Rodney, who spent the bulk of his early teens training with AVSC before winning the overall Freeride World Tour title as a rookie in 2015.
Rossman also pointed out the influence alpine skiers like Aspen’s Wiley Maple have had on the freeride athletes. Maple, who spent many years on the World Cup and started in the 2018 Olympic downhill, is one of the founding members of “The Freaks” ski gang and is someone skiers like Yang has long idolized.
“We’ve always had amazing downhill racers and it’s been largely known for that, but those guys, like Wiley Maple, they are incredible freeriders as well,” Rossman said, noting that Yang and Cherney are following in the wake of many great skiers from Aspen. “These guys are representing a long lineage of people that have just not been largely publicized for it. In Europe, those guys are rock stars. So these guys are our rock stars.”
Big mountain boom
Rossman, in his seventh year with AVSC, has seen the club’s freeride program come a long way. Just last winter, Aspen Highlands hosted a major International Free Skiers Association event, helping put Aspen on the map next to the country’s other big mountain hubs, namely Palisades Tahoe and nearby Crested Butte.
“We have an extremely great heritage of the founding fathers of the program and they had great success, but we really weren’t on the map,” Rossman said. “As the sport of freeride and big mountain skiing grew, Aspen grew with it. We have done a great job within AVSC, Aspen Skico, the whole Roaring Fork Valley, to now we have hosted premier, national events, regional events, with great success.”
Rossman said about 3,000 skiers competed in the IFSA regional events across North America last season. So, to have two of the four U.S. junior worlds qualifiers coming from Aspen is nothing to scoff at. With four local mountains, all with diverse terrain that helps develop well-rounded talent like Yang and Cherney, Aspen still has plenty of room to grow in the freeride world.
Rossman called having Yang and Cherney qualify for junior worlds a “huge milestone for the club.”
“It’s a huge honor,” he said. “We were already on the map. It’s just we have the presence now and we couldn’t be more lucky to have these two guys represent us. We always want more, but both these guys have younger sisters (Alexa Yang and Aurora Cherney) that are incredibly talented and nationally top-ranked skiers as well, so we’ll be doing this again pretty soon.”
Broadcaster Jim Williams of KSPN and KNFO is leaving the valley after eight years of serving as the voice of Aspen, Basalt and Roaring Fork high school’s sports.