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Joyce Endee

High flying fun

Local kids making a name for themselves as freestyle skiers

JACKSON HIPPLE, Luke O’Brien and Tyler Mills (l to r) stand atop the jump at Abenaki Ski Area on a recent sunny afternoon. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
March 28, 2011
WOLFEBORO — Stories of weekend adventures are always a popular topic when school reconvenes on Mondays and this winter, a trio of local kids probably had some pretty good tales to tell their classmates.

Tyler Mills, 15, and Luke O'Brien, 12, of Wolfeboro and Jackson Hipple, 10, of Tuftonboro were part of the Black and Blue Trail Smashers ski team at Waterville Valley and spent most weekends of their winter flying through the air above snow-covered ski trails.

The trio spent the winter months working on their freestyle skiing skills on the same hill where Olympic medalists Hannah Kearney and Scotty Lago learned the tricks of the trade and the three continue to progress in their own freestyle adventures.

Freestyle skiing consists of aerials, slopestyle and moguls. Aerial competition consists of skiers hitting large jumps and performing tricks while airborne. Slopestyle consists of rails and jumps interspersed on a trail and skiers have to hit each element and perform tricks. Mogul skiing is straight-up downhill skiing, but with tons of bumps (or moguls) covering the trail, challenging a skier to make it through. Moultonborough's Hannah Hardaway was an Olympic mogul skier of local note.

While the three daredevils are all part of the Waterville Valley team, they ski most afternoons at Abenaki Ski Area in Wolfeboro and are able to get tons of practice in at the town-owned hill, going quickly up and down the rope tow.

"You can get a lot of jumps in," Mills said, noting the kids can sometimes get 30 jumps a night on the Abenaki main slope, all after they spend a day in school.

"These three are always here," said Donna Kasianchuk, O'Brien's mother and a ski patroller at Abenaki. "This place does very well by them."

Though the three share a common interest in freestyle skiing, they all had different reasons for getting into it.

O'Brien cites his uncle, Stu O'Brien, who was a member of the US World Cup Freestyle Team and a pro mogul skiing champion and passed away in 1996, as one of the biggest reasons he wanted to get into the sport.

Mills noted that he went to the water jumps at Lake Placid, where skiers can train when there is no snow by leaping off jumps into large pools of water. The Waterville Valley coaches wanted him to try it and he took a shot and has been hooked ever since.

Hipple said he went to Tramp Camp at Waterville Valley, where skiers work on trampolines to perfect their moves.

"I really wanted to be on the team because a lot of the people in my camp were," he said. "I got to be on the team this year and it was awesome."

"It was awesome," O'Brien echoed.

Mills notes that freestyle skiing is certainly different than ski racing.

"It's a lot different than ski racing," he said. "You can put your own style into runs."

Mills did note that his first time down a mogul run was "different," but admitted that it was also "kind of cool."

The three (and their parents) were quick to praise coach Wes Preston, a former US Aerialist team member and a 2008 Freestyle Coach of the Year nominee for the work he did with the kids preparing them for competition.

Hipple and Mills advanced all the way to Easterns at Mt. Snow earlier this month after solid competitions at regionals at Waterville Valley.

While the three will likely have to start putting away their skis for another season in a few weeks, it's a safe bet that they will be back on the slopes with the first sign of snow.

And it's possible that one day we'll all be watching one of them soar high above the crowds at the Olympic games.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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