by Logan LaPlante
In 1990, amateur surf coach Chuck Allen hosted the first ever USASA Nationals at Snow Valley ski area in California. Back then, USASA was a snowboard-specific contest. (Hence the name: United States of America Snowboarding Association.) Nearly a decade later, skiing was incorporated into the USASA program. Fast forward another 10+ years, and USASA Nationals is the proverbial holy grail for nearly one-thousand up-and-coming freeskiers.
For those aspiring pros, the road to Copper Mountain—host of USASA Nationals—is where the ski season both begins and ends. In January of each year, when all of the regional USASA events start up, competitors choose the disciplines in which they hope to compete: Slopestyle, SkierCross, Halfpipe, and Railjam. Personally, I’m all about Halfpipe and Railjam. Many folks, however, compete in all four disciplines. Regardless of how many you take on, there is a set path to Nationals.
If you want to qualify, you have to compete in at least two regional contests per discipline. The top athlete in each discipline (per region) gets an automatic invite. From there, they “round-robin” the seed. Thus, if you’re third in your region you still stand a good chance of getting invited. Competitors who juggle SlopeStyle, Halfpipe and Skiercross also have a shot at an overall title.
The regional events are fun. For most, the scariest part of the competition is trying to avoid Mother’s prying hands as she attempts to put sunscreen on your face. I had a great couple of months competing in the regional comps, hanging with all my friends, but all the while I had my sights set on Copper.
Starting in mid-March, the invitations are sent. Talk about being anxious to find out…
When my invite finally came, my stoke level was through the roof. It’s like the best vacation of the year! Plus, we get to stop in Salt Lake City and spend a day with good friends. With my invite in the bag, it was time to prepare for the impending trip.
Copper is an ideal spot to host Nationals. The mountain is like a steeper, bigger Northstar, with the best mini-doughnut shop ever (perhaps the world’s only mini-doughnut shop), a camp WOODWARD base (heaven on earth), the “cage,” arguably the best hangout spot ever, and so many yummy restaurants and cool shops. While it’s easy to get distracted by the resort’s amenities, it’s the skiing that drew me here.
Regardless of how one performs in the competition, Nationals is a good learning experience. First of all, competitors have to be on the hill at 7:30 in the morning. You’ve gotta learn to get your ass up and get ready, because it’s spring break for mom and dad, who are keen to sleep in and enjoy their cup of Joe at the crack of 10:00. Plus, it’s a whole different level of competing. It’s not your typical, “Oh, we have two-and-a-half hours to run through 25 kids in a halfpipe, so you’re good if you’re a little late, don’t sweat it!” No, they have to run 100 kids through a halfpipe, twice each, in less than three hours. So if you’re 30 seconds late, they’re moving on to the next kid and you are screwed. The hectic nature of the contest gives competitors an understanding of the complexities of organizing a major skiing event.
As for the competition itself, our North Tahoe crew killed it this year. I didn’t expect my younger brother Cody to do well this time around, since he moved up an age bracket—but he held his own and threw down, placing 2nd in Pipe and 1st in Slope! And the two girls who came out from North Tahoe, Amber Simonpietri and Sami Lampe, both dominated—with Amber getting third in Halfpipe and Slope, and Sami placing 1st for Slope and 2nd in Pipe.
As quickly as Nationals had come, it was gone. Overall, it was awesome time. I got to see so many friends and made many new ones, too. A great show was put on by all, and I’m already looking forward to the prospect of qualifying again next year.