IFSA, Monarch Mountain look to build local big-mountain freeride scene

IFSA, Monarch Mountain look to build local big-mountain freeride scene

On March 4, 2017, Monarch Mountain will host its first-ever International Freeskiers & Snowboarders Association event. The competition is part of the Regional IFSA Junior Series and will include young skiers ranging in age from 10 to 14 years old, with skiers in the 15 to 18 range allowed to participate but not earn IFSA points.

The ski area, located atop Monarch Pass in Colorado’s picturesque Sawatch Range, is committed to growing big-mountain freeride participation amongst the local youth skiing population. Monarch has a segment of kids within its ski school dedicated to skiing big-mountain terrain—cliffs, chutes, trees and other all-natural features. The hope for the program and the upcoming event is to expose the group to the freedom of big-mountain skiing, build confidence and push them to continue on to other regional events next winter.

“It’s [Monarch’s] first event. They’re trying to make [big-mountain freeride] a big community, include the [nearby] town of Salida and get other local areas involved,” says Shannon Moller, event coordinator. “We have an overwhelming amount of local kids that would call Monarch their home mountain and this will be their first time competing.”

The snow at Monarch is au natural. Photo by Kjell Ellefson

The ski area, while lesser known in the ski-centric state of Colorado, is an ideal venue for a freeride competition. It operates on 100-percent natural snowfall and is littered with high quality tree skiing and natural features. To top it off, as of February 16, Monarch has received 277 inches of snow and has a base depth of 86 inches.

For its first competition, contestants will ski down the High Anxiety run, one of the steeper lines down the frontside of the mountain. Mirkwood Basin—the hike-to zone Monarch is most known for—is on the table as a possible venue location moving forward. The goal for this inaugural event, however, is to promote confidence in the young skiers and allow them to exhibit strong, fluid skiing rather than simply the ability to huck cliffs and choose the most challenging routes down the mountain.

“We want an event that showcases some great skiing, versus just extreme terrain, with good technique, fluidity, energy, style—the whole nine yards,” says Tiania Adams, Monarch’s season program coordinator. “Sometimes athletes can be really good skiers without having the hucking skill set of others, so it’ll be a great place to build up confidence moving forward.”

Scott Mahoney, a member of IFSA’s board of directors, believes that while Monarch is small, it has great potential as a breeding ground for young big-mountain skiers. “Instilling that spirit of looking at a mountain differently and taking all of the nooks and crannies, trees, the bumps and the rocks and deciding how you’re going to get down them, you can do that anywhere that you choose to do it,” he explains. “I think it’s great that Monarch is taking the initiative to introduce kids to this segment of snow sports at this age.”

Screenshot from last year’s regional event at Breckenridge.

And on top of the joy derived from creatively picking one’s trajectory down a mountain, Mahoney believes that the camaraderie of these IFSA events is something that will instill a lifelong love of this segment of skiing into the participants. “Those friendships come from the juniors, it didn’t just hit them when they became 18 or 19,” he explains. “They show up at the national or regional event and run into someone they skied with at the last contest and they’re like, ‘we don’t have to do a run until 2 o clock, let’s go take some laps before our run.’ They’re hanging out at the top of the mountain, at the bottom and at night with each other; they’re dog-piling, high-fiving and giving hugs to every one of the athletes. It’s a vibe that’s in the sport and I think that’s one of the things that makes it special.”

Moller adds that the travel component of the tour will help the Monarch locals to ingrain themselves into the freeride community that extends across the United States. “At all of the stops they go on, they link up with kids at other events and ride the resort for a day with them. It just becomes a bigger family for these kids outside of their own team. And I really think Monarch kids will thrive in that environment.”

While introducing the local youth to the joys of big-mountain freeride competitions is the biggest goal, Monarch is also excited to showcase its ski area to the more seasoned competitors from Crested Butte, Vail, Breckenridge and Taos Ski Valley, among other more established freeride clubs. “All of the kids that have traveled the circuit haven’t had the opportunity to ski at Monarch in this capacity. All of the surrounding areas are really excited to have Monarch [organize] something like this and show what it has to offer.”

Moller expects 105 participants in the inaugural competition. For more information, click here.

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