TELLURIDE – Last Thursday, if you were on the Mountain from 3-4 p.m., you may have seen an amoeba of about thirty snowboarders of all ages literally shredding Lift 5, See Forever and Lift 4.
From afar, it looked like another day of riding for the local club, albeit in a bigger group. But if you looked closer, you’d notice there were a few more “big guys” than normal, and they were obscenely talented on their boards.
If you looked closer still, you might notice that some of those big guys resembled snowboarding legends, such as three-time World Championship snowboard cross winner Lindsey Jacobellis, two-time Olympian Graham Watanabe, and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Seth Wescott.
“It couldn’t be them,” you might have thought. “They’re here to train and win this week’s LG FIS World Cup, not fool around with a bunch of local kids.”
Your conclusion wouldn’t have been further from the truth.
The three were joined by six-time X Games Gold Medalist Nate Holland, his brother, Pat, a top-ten World Cup finisher, and a handful of other accomplished World Cup competitors.
“To get ten World Cup athletes to take an hour to ride with the kids is huge,” TSSC Executive Director Justin Chandler said. “And this is their third year doing it.”
It was impossible not to miss the group as they carved down lower See Forever, and even more impossible not to get sucked into the energy and follow along. Only one unwritten rule applied: No Stopping.
“It was amazing, and really cool seeing all the kids so inspired by the pros,” TSSC Director of Snowboarding Dylan Cooney said. “There was great bonding. It was almost like seeing friends ride together.”
“Everyone was acting like a bunch of kids,” he added.
The young Telluride boarders nonchalantly wove in front of and behind the world’s best, unintimidated by their star power, size or skill.
“We were just riding and having fun,” said Lucas Foster, a seventh-grade TSSC athlete. “They inspire me because they are really nice people. They have really good attitudes.”
According to Nate Holland, having fun and riding is not unintentional. In fact, even at his level, it’s what keeps him competitive. If you’re having fun snowboarding, his logic goes, then working hard at it will also be fun.
“Having fun is what’s kept me going to snowboard competitively,” Nate said. “It’s easy to get in a contest and get too serious.”
“Whether it’s racing, freestyle, or bordercross…pick what you like,” he advises young athletes.
“Hard work and dedication are needed,” his brother Pat added. “But you always want to keep it enjoyable when you’re working hard.”
Nate explained that to improve as a young rider, he took advantage of the exact opportunity that he, and the other World Cup athletes, were providing the TSSC kids – riding with athletes better than himself.
“Always ride with better people,” he said. “Ask questions, get a good group of friends who ride, and push each other.”
“I didn’t have a coach growing up,” he said. “I had a group of friends and my brother.
We’d build a jump, hit it, look at magazines, try what we saw, and film.”
Despite his laid-back attitude, it wasn’t by accident that Nate Holland became a world-class boarder; at age 12, he set his sights on making the sport his life.
His advice to young aspiring riders: “Set goals to take your snowboarding to the next level, and try to learn something everyday when you’re out. You’ve got to try new stuff when you’re young.”
On Thursday, the TSSC athletes did exactly as Holland advised. They rode with athletes better than themselves, they had fun, and they rode with their friends – it was just that on this day, those friends consisted of the Holland brothers, Wescott, Watanabe, Jacobellies and crew.
In the end, it wasn’t the group’s formidable talent and accolades in the sport that left an impression on the young athletes – it was who they were as individuals.
“I’m just riding with them because it’s fun,” seventh grader Broden Thornton said. “Overall, they’re just really nice guys.”
As for the World Cup riders, they were as grateful for the experience as well as the training and venue Telluride provides during the World Cup.
“It’s killer to come to Telluride early season,” Nate Holland said. “With the elevation they always can blow snow and it’s a great venue and a great course. I can speak on behalf of the whole World Cup when I say we love coming here.”