USASA revamps Rev Tour pipeline to boost freestyle competition | AspenTimes.com

USASA revamps Rev Tour pipeline to boost freestyle competition

Phil Lindeman
Summit Daily News

This winter could be a breakthrough season for the three top freeskiers with Team Summit Colorado.

Well before the first competition, the trio of high-level locals — Ethan Swadburg, Levi Ascher, Greg Spaulding — is already pre-qualified for the Revolution Tour. The Rev Tour, a nationwide series that kicks off at Copper in December, is a stepping stone for young competitors who want to move up the freestyle ranks. With any luck, placing well at the Rev Tour puts them on the radar for invite-only competitions: Dew Tour, X Games, the U.S. Burton Open, the Winter Olympics.

But it hasn't always been a prestigious gateway. When the Rev Tour was launched about a decade ago, entry was open to anyone and everyone who knew how to use a computer. There were no qualifying races or finishes, and that meant first-year competitors would go up against lifelong freeskiers like Levi Ascher, whose dad has owned Pup's Glide Shop in downtown Breckenridge for years.

"We didn't really know where Rev Tour fit at first," said Paul Krahulec, the Summit County director for the USASA Rocky Mountain Series. "At one point, we had too many people who shouldn't have been competing, people who were competing past their ability."

The USASA builds events to be a pipeline for young, hungry athletes. But, as Krahulec explains, Rev Tour didn't really benefit the pipeline when entry was open to anyone. Team Summit head freeski Chris Hawks agrees.

"What used to happen is that a mom or coach or whoever wanted them to be in the event could just go online, register and they would be there," said Hawks, who started coaching with Team Summit in 2001. "They opened it to anyone who wanted to register, and that just didn't make sense. Now, it's a legitimate event."

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This season, Rev Tour entries are limited to pre-qualified athletes like the Team Summit trio and athletes who qualify through sanctioned events during the season. The first local event is the USASA ski and snowboard halfpipe at Copper Mountain on Dec. 2, held less than a week before the resort's Rev Tour stop from Dec. 6-11.

At the Copper Mountain qualifier, just 24 athletes will earn an invite to the Tour itself. Only the top male and female finishers for ski and snowboard make the cut, and Hawks believes that will help the Tour live up to its reputation — and usefulness as a pipeline event.

"If they want to be contest skiers, they have to do Rev Tour," Hawks said. "They have to move up the USASA rankings, qualify for Rev Tour and make it to that next level. That's your end goal. You have to get to Dew Tour, you have to get to X Games, you have to keep moving up."

The ski club pipeline

In the grand scheme of things, Rev Tour is the middle tier in the youth freestyle pipeline. Ski clubs across the U.S. rely on USASA events to help their athletes move from entry-level regional races to national and invite-only events. Every finish at every event earns points, just like the FIS World Cup circuit, and the top point earners in from each division qualify for better and fiercer competition.

"The USASA is the little league, the grassroots, the pee-wee football of snowboarding and skiing," Krahulec said. "You have to come through us to get to the Olympics and reach that highest level."

But, even for coaches, navigating that pipline can occasionally be confusing.

"I don't think anyone quite understands 100 percent how these competitions work together," Hawks said. Still, it's his job to know what events are best for individual athletes. Along with skills and techniques, ski club coaches guide their athletes through the complicated world of competition.

"We have to make sure we aren't blowing it for the kids," he said. "We keep an eye on registration and everything else. Now, with the pre-qualified list (for Rev Tour), I have three athletes who are already signed up through that list."

Will the qualification requirements truly bring better competition to the Tour? Yes, Krahulec says, especially in Summit County. The local Rocky Mountain Division is the deepest and most talented in the country — the East and Midwest divisions don't even have ski halfpipe or slopestyle.

And, it can only help that the Rev Tour is now more prestigious in the Association of Freeskiing Professionals world. The AFP awards points based on a scale system, from bronze to platinum. All regional USASA races are AFP bronze, while the Grand Prix series is AFP platinum. This season, Rev Tour sits right in the middle at AFP silver — exactly where it belongs.

"It's just been so tough for kids to reach that highest level in the past because there were no stepping stones," Hawks said. "Now, you're basing it on proven results to get to the next level, not just how fast you are at figuring out a website. I'm happy with it."

USASA Freestyle pipeline

Rev Tour

Dec. 6-11 — Ski/snowboard halfpipe, Copper Mountain

Jan. 26-31 — Ski/snowboard halfpipe, slopestyle and big air, Mammoth Mountain

Feb. 29 to March 5 — Ski/snowboard slopestyle, Winter Park

March 14-18 — Ski/snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle, Seven Springs

*Entry requires a qualifying race or pre-qualifications from the previous season

Rev Tour qualifiers

Dec. 2 — Ski/snowboard halfpipe, Copper Mountain

Dec. 28-29 — Ski/snowboard slopestyle, Copper Mountain

*Entry is open based on age and USASA restrictions

Rocky Mountain Series highlights

Dec. 13 — Ski/snowboard halfpipe, Copper Mountain

Dec. 9-10 — Ski/snowboard slopestyle, Vail Mountain

Jan. 24 — Ski/snowboard halfpipe, Breckenridge Mountain

Jan. 30-31 — Ski and boardercross series, Ski Cooper

Feb. 13-14 — Ski/snowboard slopestyle, Winter Park

Feb. 27-28 — Ski/snowboard slopestyle, Keystone

*Entry is open based on age and USASA restrictions