Steamboat Springs moguls skier twists to Junior Nationals championship

Steamboat Springs skier Landon Wendler competes earlier this winter at Steamboat Ski Area. Competing last weekend in Park City, Utah, he won the Junior Nationals moguls event.
Joel Reichenberger

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — One of the first times he tried it, Steamboat Springs freestyle moguls skier Landon Wendler landed on his head.

Fortunately, that’s why the first time he tried it was on the water ramp at Bald Eagle Lake in Steamboat Springs.

There were more tough splashdowns, and when he moved it to a mountain later in the summer, some hard falls on snow, too.

As a bumps skier, he’s always been better at the actual skiing, with the turns and the speed, which is good, because the judges scores and time for those two elements make up 80 percent of the score of a moguls run. The airs, Wendler has always had to work a little harder on those, and he worked hard last summer and hard in the fall and hard when the season came, all to get his newest trick, a back full, ready.

And, when he needed it the most, last weekend at one of his biggest events of the year, the individual moguls competition at the 2018 Junior Freestyle Nationals event in Park City, Utah, it was there, and it was ready.

Wendler stomped his tricks, ripped the course and soared to the win, taking the junior national championship.

Wendler’s success was only one highlight from a highlight-filled week for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club skiers at that event.

Kenzie Radway continued what’s been a stellar season with a podium on the women’s side, placing second in the dual moguls event. She also was fourth in the individual moguls competition.

Trudy Mickel also added a podium, placing third in women’s moguls.

Bubba Antkiewicz was third in the men’s dual moguls, then fifth in the men’s moguls. Ben Hoefer was eighth, Spencer Belsky 11th and Charlie Mickel 55th in moguls.

Kaia Schmid was 22nd and Maisie Wagner 39th in women’s moguls.

“Steamboat did really well. The pinnacle was Landon winning, but we had a lot of great performances,” Steamboat coach Lars Johnson said.

For Wendler, the result was a breakthrough, the one result that helped take what was a very good season that one next step to great.

He finished 10th at the U.S. Freestyle Team Selections event, a big early season competition, then maintained strong results through a series of juniors competitions around the region. He competed in four Nor-Am Cup events, placing as high as 12th.

Slowly along the way he began to introduce that back full as his first of two tricks.

In layman’s terms, the back full is a backflip with a 360-degree twist all while the body is kept pin straight.

The process started on the trampoline, where Wendler tried to establish the required muscle memory. Then it took it to the water ramps, and finally, in a summer camp at Oregon’s Mount Hood, to snow.

Still, he wasn’t quite ready and he kept working as the season began.

“The hardest part is probably the takeoff and being patient,” he said. “If you come off the jump and rush into it, the flip degrades and that’s not good. But, if you come off and are square and strong and patient from the start, it makes the whole trick better.”

He landed it roughly 40 times on snow before he slipped it into his competition run.

His first attempt in competition came in Vail. He placed third.

He tried it again several weeks later at a Telluride competition. He won that one.

He came into junior nationals loaded with confidence.

He was fourth after his first run, then even better on his second to take the win.

“We never really talk about winning. We just let the training prove itself on the course,” Johnson said. “But, the training was going really well and we know going in there was a chance he could win it. It was a goal the whole season to do that trick in competition. For him to do it and win with it, that was pretty extraordinary. It exceeded our goals we set for this winter. It was pretty great.”

The win locks Wendler, 17 years old, into a spot in next winter’s World Junior Championships.

He’ll be ready to put it down again next week. The team is heading for the U.S. Freestyle Ski National Championships at Waterville Valley Resort in New Hampshire, which begin Tuesday.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.

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