CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN – While growing up on the slopes at Telluride, big mountain skier Michael Gardner learned a few lessons from his home mountain’s burly terrain – like how to ski lines no one believed possible.
Gardner put all those lessons to work over the past ski season, constructing a triumphant winter that catapulted him into the uppermost echelons of competitive freeskiing. Following his season debut placing 5th overall among men at Telluride’s Subaru Freeskiing Open in February, Gardner went on to win first at Junior Freeskiing events in Taos and Grand Targhee. Then, at the beginning of April, Gardner confirmed his standing as one of the best young skiers in the nation by finishing second at the North American Junior Freeskiing National Championship at Crystal Mountain, Calif.
“He’s earned the respect of skiers from around the country,” said Chason Russell, fellow freeskier (he placed third at the Telluride event this winter) and Gardner’s coach from the Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club’s Big Mountain Team. On top of taking the silver at the Nationals event, Gardner also closed the season at the number two spot for the North American Junior Freeski Tour. “He deserves it,” Russell said. “He skied really well all year.”
Gardner’s season of glory culminated with his recent podium finish at Crystal Mountain, following a daredevil run in which he center-punched the rock and cliff-strewn middle section of one of Crystal’s gnarliest peaks. He was in first place after the preliminary round, his throat-cinching drops at the bottom of the course garnering him props from judges. He opted to ski the same line in the finals, but got hung up on a rock and so was served a few deductions on his score, ultimately coming in at second place.
Said Gardner of his illustrious winter season, and his clinching of the second place spot at the Junior Nationals event: “I got a lot of support from my coach and family; I was also able to get some good training in prior to the competitive season. It kinda just clicked.”
Gardner, who is 17, will join the Men’s World Tour next winter, where his plan is to continue to attack North America’s burliest ski terrain with the same aggressiveness, style, and finesse that put him among the nation’s best this season. “It’s about having fun,” he says. “I try and ski a line that’s creative, something I’d want to ski even if I wasn’t in competition. I guess I just want to continue having fun.”