AVSC skiers tops at Copper | AspenTimes.com

AVSC skiers tops at Copper

Jon Maletz
Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club skier Matt Walker hits a jump on his title-winning run at Copper Mountain's Siver Young Gun Open slopestyle Saturday. AVSC's Whitney Wickes finished first in the women's competition. (Courtesy Bruce Walker)

The “A-Town Army” delivered an A-plus performance.Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club freeriders Matt Walker and Whitney Wickes walked away from the Siver Young Gun Open slopestyle Saturday at Copper Mountain with matching first-place finishes – and a whole lot of prizes. The event showcased the country’s top young amateur skiers.”It really started hitting me today and yesterday,” said Walker, 17. “It was the best day of competition I’ve ever had. Now, I get to do a lot of fun stuff.” There was more on the line than just a title, as the Siver Cartel clothing company, Scott goggles, Level gloves and Line skis guaranteed winners sponsorships – not to mention increased exposure. All-expense-paid trips to the finals in Stratton, Vt., on March 11, and the Masters at Mammoth Mountain in California in May sweetened the deal. Whatever the root of their motivation, Walker, Wickes and select other AVSC members who calls themselves the “A-Town Army” laid down some of the season’s most memorable runs.

“My goal was to make the finals and finish in the top five or 10,” said Walker, who topped a field of 100. “Under the circumstances, that was the best run I could do, and I was happy with it.”After his performance during a three-run, 45-minute jam session earned him a spot in the finals, Walker awed judges with his amplitude and style. In his second of two finals runs, Walker landed a corked 360 with a nosegrab off the small first jump, followed by a right-side 540. On the final jump, Walker paired a switch 720 with what he calls a double crouton grab – holding the tip of one ski and the tail of the other. “It’s a bizarre, original grab,” AVSC freestyle pipe and park coach Geoff Stump said. “He had real clean takeoffs and landings. Both he and Whitney did what they needed to do on the rails and had command in the air. They came down and stomped it.”Stump said he would’ve been surprised to hear at the start of the season that Wickes would make the podium at Copper. But after watching her attitude shift and confidence level rise with each passing day, there was little, if any, shock.Wickes charged the course with a determination Stump said he had never seen before. In a field that was smaller but equally experienced and formidable as the men’s draw, the 15-year-old left no doubt.

“She took her 540 as big or bigger than some of the guys,” Stump said. “She wanted it, and oh my goodness she raged. She went out and made sure she’d win it. She has been showing us all along that she wanted to be reckoned with.”The reason for such a drastic change is obvious, Wickes said. With the prodding of teammates and encouragement from Stump, Wickes shook off the timidness that hampered her in past years.Wickes was often the only girl who skied and traveled with a group of up to 20 guys, her brother Andrew said. She was always pushed, and always up for the challenge.When she was ready to take her skiing to another level, Whitney would lean on her older brother for advice. Andrew, an Aspen High School senior and one of four AVSC guys to make the finals at Copper, was more than willing to lend a hand.”She sees things and tells me ‘I’m going to try it, now what do I need to do?'” Andrew said. “There is no jealousy between us. I’m excited to see her reach this level. This is just the start of big things for Whitney. There are voids for girls in sports and a lot of positions to be filled.”

Whitney said she is ready to take that next step. She wants to go pro. Her journey continues Jan. 18-21 at the U.S. Freeskiing Open in Vail.Her new Line skis – currently propped in the corner of her bedroom – will soon be mounted. She will be sharpening her run in the coming weeks in order to hang with the sport’s top pros.The experience will be intimidating, Wickes admitted. She will not, however, be alone. When the pressure peaked Saturday, Wickes listened to the calming sounds of her teammates’ cheers. They were with her at the start, just as they had been on countless freeriding excursions. They were waiting to erupt as she climbed the podium.There was little reason to let nerves creep in. It was obvious the entire team was in it together.”I don’t think I’d be where I am without them,” Wickes said.Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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