DETERMINED - Sam McKeown

New slopestyle team excited to be operational

Members of the Alberta Slopestyle Ski Team gathered recently at one of Canada’s few water ramp facilities to continue their training.

Members of the Alberta Slopestyle Ski Team gathered recently at one of Canada’s few water ramp facilities, located at Three Mile Bend, to continue their training.

The team was operational for a number of years, before taking a two-year hiatus.

Now a new set of coaches, trainers and athletes have revived the team with intensity and desire to further the sport. The team has been travelling to various facilities since June, including Red Deer’s water ramp, to enhance their skills and performance.

“These are the kids that excel from the local clubs to a provincial level, moving into a kind of development program that prepares them for a national stream. For example, these would feed into X-Games, the Olympics, etc.,” said head coach Chris Ebbern.

“It’s been a super positive experience with these guys. I’ve been coaching for 17 years, and I used to compete myself. I’ve been lucky enough to do it all over the world. I used to run the Fernie Freestyle Ski program, so it’s a good step up for me to move into an elite program with dedicated athletes that want to go to the big show, the Olympics being the big allure these days.”

The Alberta Slopestyle Team consists of athletes Colin Bridger, Brayden Tritter, Dustin Cressey, Sam McKeown and Spencer Saltys, with Ebbern as head coach. All members are excited to be a part of the team.

“It’s kind of a new experience for our coaches and all of our trainers this year. It’s pretty exciting. There was a team in the past but it didn’t really work out. People have been refining it for two years, so we’re all pretty excited to see how it goes. It’s really making a good step forward right now, so it’s really exciting,” said Cressey.

Cressey is currently dealing with an injury, but is looking forward to training with his team again soon.

“I’m just trying to look at all the positives of getting some time off my skis. As much as I love it, sometimes you just need a little break to get your head in the right spot, so that when you come back you can compete at your highest level and to your best ability,” he said.

Saltys said that he was excited to be a part of the team because it provides a new level of training and skill development that he hadn’t had before.

“The training is just so much more than it was with the lower level teams. This is preparing you for the national level of competition – it’s more in-depth and you have more training that works you harder,” he said.

“We haven’t done much yet but I think it’ll be a good year for me and the boys. We’ll definitely see some progression with all of our teams and our coaches. I like our coaches and the team is definitely a sweet team, that’s for sure,” he added.

McKeown explained that slopestyle skiing runs combine rail techniques with jumps and tricks.  He said that he finds slopestyle to be a more difficult genre of skiing technique because of its incorporation of multiple styles.

“This year I’m really hoping to get to bigger competitions, and place a little bit better in those competitions. I want to raise my AFP ranking (Association of Freeskiing Professionals) and keep working my way up so that I can do the biggest competitions that I can,” he said.

The Sochi, Russia Olympics were the first Games that included the slopestyle category. The athletes of the team said they believe the sport will only continue to grow in popularity.

“Even though the sport has progressed so much in the past few years, it’s really something to keep an eye out for because it’s so new. It’s only going to progress further and further,” said Cressey.

“We’re kind of the second generation of riders in this sport, because the coaches that we have now are the guys that really started progressing it. They were the ones messing around and seeing what was possible.”

Members of the team will travel next to Calgary to begin preparing for fall and winter training.

Cressey said, “We, as the Alberta Team, are always trying to do stuff that hasn’t been done before. Even if it’s minor, you could be the first person in the world to do a trick and that’s pretty awesome to be part of.”

kmendonsa@lacombeexpress.com