With an increasing number of potential athletes being lured away by freestyle moguls or freeride skiing, The U.S. Freestyle Ski Team has had to branch out its search to continually develop high-caliber athletes.
“We’re not getting as many kids as we used to coming into freestyle, with many going into either snowboarding or freeride,” explained U.S. Aerials Head Coach Matt Christensen. “Now we’re recruiting, going into gymnastics so we can be competitive with the Chinese and Australians.”
Another recent tactic by the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team has been reaching out to other organizations to maximize their exposure to newer audiences. Recently, the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, the Utah Olympic Park and Park City-based FLY Freestyle program joined forces to recruit local Utah gymnasts and acrobats to the sport of freestyle aerials. The U.S. Ski Team hosted a day of the camp at the famed Center of Excellence in Park City before moving to the Utah Olympic Park.
Over the past few years, FLY Freestyle, a local U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association club and Community Olympic Development Program, has developed into a successful year round program with a goal to expand the popularity and awareness of aerials. The recruitment camp program had 15 athletes, most of which are Utah natives and a few from neighboring western states. FLY has two programs, an elite development, where kids come four to five days a week and a younger development, where kids come one to two days a week.
The program started out strictly as an Olympic aerials program, offering traditional inverted aerials, and now includes moguls and freeride as well.
The U.S. Freestyle Ski Team and FLY Freestyle hope that a strong partnership will help boost and maintain aerials numbers for the future. Recruitment camps are becoming a crucial part for the future of U.S. Aerials and the sport.
“With the partnership between FLY and the U.S. Ski Team, we’re starting to work together to improve numbers. This is the first time we have ever done a joint project,” said Christensen. “It’s working out well everyone gets along. Everyone’s just trying to make aerials better.”
With the future looking bright and talented, FLY Freestyle and the U.S. Ski Team hope to show just how fun and exciting freestyle, particularly aerials, can be. Although, the U.S. Ski Team is a joint host, skiing experience was not required.
“I’m way excited, but I’m a little nervous though because I’ve never skied or have done anything like this in my life,” said 15 year-old Kendal Russell from Ogden, UT. “I’m a gymnast, but never skied before.”
Athletes like Russell are what the U.S. Freestyle coaches hope to bring into the sport. Offering incentive to hit the snow instead of the mat, are two scholarships offered by FLY Freestyle.
“We have two scholarships to give from this camp. The top two athletes from acrobatic testing and strength testing will be offered free training with FLY for the rest of the summer,” said Preston. “It’s an effort to build the development program and get more athletes involved to feed them into the U.S. Ski Team and hopefully the Olympics.”