Steamboat Springs skier finds thrills, success on the big mountain
Steamboat Springs — He knows what it feels like to crash through the gates of a slalom course, and he has tested his skills on the bumps of a mogul course and hit every obstacle and rail while competing in slopestyle.
But 17-year-old Bryan Gilbertson will tell you the place he feels the most comfortable on skis is a place most would not. He said he’s the most comfortable at the top of some of the steepest terrain in the world where wind-blown pine trees, jagged rock outcroppings and cliffs stand between him and the finish line.
The world of big mountain skiing is a place where skiers are not judged on spins, flips or the fastest times. It’s a place where skiers are judged on lines, control and how they navigate ski runs that most will never dare to attempt.
“It’s who I am as a skier,” said Gilbertson, who switched from freestyle to big mountain skiing about five years ago. “It’s about a lot more than tricks. It’s about line choice and which route you take from the top to the bottom of the mountain.”
On Jan. 13, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athlete picked up one of the best finishes of his career at the International Freeskiers & Snowboarders Association’s junior nationals at Snowbird Resort in Utah. Gilbertson qualified with a fifth-place run on Silverfox and then placed second at the event with one of the best runs of his career on the legendary North Baldy.
It was a rare opportunity for skiers in Gilbertson’s age group who normally compete in the finals on the less-demanding Silverfox run. But event officials decided that recent snow made the more challenging North Baldy run safe for the younger skiers. Several feet of snow covered up patches of rock outcroppings that normally make the run unforgiving for skiers who make the wrong choice.
Gilbertson’s coach Jon Dean was proud of the young Steamboat skier who came to the program after years of skiing in the more traditional freestyle programs.
“This is a huge win for Steamboat freeskiing,” Dean said. “This is a huge step and a huge achievement for this young athlete.”
Dean and Gilbertson are the first to admit that Steamboat isn’t really known for extreme terrain, but that hasn’t stopped them from building a solid program in Steamboat or finding places on the mountain to train and compete.
“We have our zones,” Dean said. “We have Chute 1, Chute 2 and North St. Pats. We make the most of what we have.””
This weekend the Winter Sports Club and Steamboat Ski Area will invite skiers from around the state and the division to see what Mount Werner has to offer during a rare big mountain skiing competition. This is the second year for the event, which was cut short last year because of weather conditions.
Dean said the competitions will take place Saturday and Sunday with qualifying taking place on Chutes 1 and 2. The Chutes as well as the cliff band between them will be the site for the finals. Gilberton said younger skiers will get things started at around 9 a.m. with the older skiers competing later in the day.
“In big mountain you are not so locked into what you can do,” Gilbertson said. “It’s like going out on the hill and skiing for fun, and it’s more thrilling for me to go out and compete.”
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