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IOC brings Olympic sized opportunities to Rossland

Riding the rodeo over Red Mountain - Andrew Zwicker photo

In one fell swoop, Olympic-sized opportunities were cracked open for Rossland last week (and indeed for young skiers and snowboarders the world over) as the International Olympic Committee announced the inclusion of three new ski and snowboard disciplines beginning in Sochi, Russia for 2014. With the addition of slopestyle skiing and boarding as well as parallel alpine snowboarding, Red Mountain, the Red Mountain Academy and RSS received an opportunity to take a big switch D-spin forward.

Slopestyle, long an X-Games staple, is a series of judged runs through hits, lips, wedges, rails, boxes and typical features found in ski area’s terrain parks built to a high level with multiple routes and options. Skiers and boarders are traditionally judged on speed, style, difficulty and amplitude.

The fact that the IOC is now bringing the sport into the games for 2014 is as much a recognition in the changes ski and snowboarding’s culture has gone through over the last decade and a half since Mike Douglas and Shane Szocs first brought twin tip skis into the mainstream in the late 1990s. It's also part of a continuing effort to keep the Games relevant.

What that will mean for Rossland’s Red Mountain Academy is a potential boost in their stature, particularly to their freeriding program.

Launched five years ago and focused on the direction more and more young skiers were drawn too (away from skin-tight suits and bashing gates to beat the clock) and into the beefier terrain, backcountry and terrain parks, the program has been a hit. Filled to the brim last year with 11 athletes, the freeriding program is once again full for the 2011/12 season even as the program continues to accept applications.

Since its inception a half decade back, freeriding has quickly become the most popular of the academy's three programs (the other two are Snowboarding and Ski Racing). With 11 of the academy's 22 students last year enrolled in freeskiing there’s no doubt that that’s where the growth in the sport is happening.

The primary focus of the freeriding program, up to an including this coming season, has been on training kids for big mountain skiing competitions, off-piste and mountain safety.

“The slopestyle aspect is just something that we in the past have done on the side,” explained Mark Impey of the Red Mountain Academy. “It’s been something the kids have been naturally attracted to. It’s something we’ve done but it has never been the main focus of the program.”

With the announcement of slopestyle’s addition to the Olympics, which came as a surprise to Impey and indeed many in the industry, that may well soon be changing. With the program set for the upcoming season the academy will spend this coming season re-working it to bring in a strong focus specifically on training for slopestyle. With the big show of the Olympics providing an even bigger world stage for athletes to strive towards, the expectation is that there will be an increased interest among families and kids to gear towards that discipline.

“Olympic sports and academies really go hand in hand,” added Impey. “That’s something that will really help the academy now that it is an Olympic sport that kids can train for. It has that kind of potential for the kids. I think we will see a change in our programming, and hopefully for the 2012 season we’ll attract kids to the area just to train slopestyle specifically.”

For kids already in the program, Impey sees a solid talent base that isn’t far off from competing with the best in the world. As the program starts shifting focus onto slopestyle there is an anxiousness to see how the current crop of talent will fare with increased exposure to high end competition.

“We have some really great talent in the program,” noted Impey. “This year we had a guest coach, Anna Segal who is the current slopestyle world champion. She skied with the kids and it was really interesting to see where our boys stood against the top woman in the world. It was a real eye opener to see just how good our kids really are. So that was great. The competitions we go to are all fairly local within BC, so the athletes haven’t really had a chance to test themselves against the best in Canada or the best in the States yet. It’ll be really interesting to see how they do when we start getting them into some bigger competitions. This decision will really ramp up the drive to advance that.”

 Along with some local skiers, the academy has been successful in attracting kids from around the globe to train and get their schooling through the unique partnership between RSS and the academy. With the reputation of the program growing, the ultimate goal is to within a few years get to the point of having the Red Mountain Academy be recognized as “The” place to train for skiing and snowboarding.

“And it’s happening,” added Impey. “When you go out into the ski world people have heard about us and it’s happening organically. We’re trying to develop it up to that stage to be a known training base as the best spot to train for skiing and snowboarding in the country and the world.”

Realistically, the shorter term goal for the program is to expand from its current 22 athletes up to the 40 to 50 athlete mark, attracting even more International students to the program as well as developing local talent and using that synergy to raise the talent bar in general.

Of course not just the academy and Red Resort win in that scenario but also the City of Rossland.

Along with the other innovative academy programs run out of RSS, attracting new students through the academy program boosts the school and district's coffers through the existing funding formula based on full time equivalent enrollment. To further both the school’s goals of long term sustainability along with the academy's, the working partnership between the two has been a tight and close knit symbiotic one.

The academy's long term dream is the establishment of a full-on training facility, ideally located up at Red Mountain. That would take things to the next level and firmly establish the academy as a world class training destination for young skiers and boarders.

“That’s in our vision long term and we’re going to continue working towards that over the next few years,” added Impey. “I’m confident we can get there, and it’ll be a great thing for Rossland and Red Mountain when we do.”