Blue Mountain Freeriders having USASA success

Team produces slopestyle, boarder cross and ski cross champs

Chuck Braun couldn't contain his excitement Wednesday night. Not only was it his 16th birthday, but he received one of the best presents ever from his parents.

Braun received funding for a trip to the United States of America Snowboard Association (USASA) National Championships in Copper Mountain, Colo., March 30-April 4.

Braun, a sophomore at Central Bucks South High School, is a member of the Blue Mountain Freeriders competitive teams. He competes in the rails-and-tricks competition known as slopestyle, and the racing competition called boarder cross. Boarder cross and skier cross offer side-by-side racing and are Olympic events, as is the halfpipe. Slopestyle becomes an Olympic event for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

"I'm ranked 18th in the country right now," Braun said during a phone interview from his home in Chalfont. "It's so much fun. You get really amped before the race. My best bud Ben Clark is ranked fifth in the country in a different age group, and he's going too, so we're both staying in the same hotel, flying out on the same plane and will be there for each other."

According to Joe Forte, the coach of the Freeriders at Blue Mountain Ski Area in Palmerton, the team has done very well at nationals in the past and continues to produce national champions in the more modern skiing and snowing events.

The Freeriders are a team of skiers and snowboarders who practice tricks and side-by-side racing on the weekends to improve their skills. A second level of the program raises the bar for those interested in competition.

Blue Mountain is hosting a USASA Mid-Atlantic Regional event March 8-10 where regional riders can accumulate more points toward qualifying for nationals. The Blue Mountain Freeriders range in age from 8 to 40, Forte said.

"We have a very well-rounded team," he said. "We don't limit the goals or objectives of the students. Everyone is on this team for fun, and some are more serious about competing. The team is strong in teaching fundamentals like correct stance and correct body movement. That's why we have such strong national success."

Emilie-Kate Robinson-Leith is one such youngster who is on the team for both fun and competition. Robinson-Leith, 12, loves the competition so much that she is homeschooled so that she can train six days a week.

"I go on field trips to places like northern Vermont," the New Jersey resident said with a smile as she stopped for a brief interview on her way to Blue Mountain on Thursday.

Robinson-Leith won a gold medal in freestyle, a second in boarder cross and a bronze medal in halfpipe in her age group at the 2011 nationals. Her younger sister Joanna won gold at nationals in skier cross last year.

Emilie-Kate is qualified for halfpipe at nationals, but missed qualifying for slopestyle because a tailbone bruise kept her out of a qualifying competition. She is hoping to qualify for boarder cross at the Blue Mountain race next weekend.

Robinson-Leith works on her acrobatics on a trampoline at a gymnastics club close to her home before attempting high-scoring tricks like flips and Misty 540s on the unforgiving, hard-packed surface of the snow. She loves doing the tricks, but she also likes going fast, too, which is why she loves boarder cross as well.

Braun loves boarder cross and racing against someone else at the same time.

"I think about how fast I can get out of the gate, and when you get out of the gate in first, you never look back," he said. "To go from the back to front is nerve wracking, and it's always nerve wracking when someone's right behind you."

Braun said the other edgy thing about skier cross and boarder cross is that there are time trials before the racing to set the brackets. You have no control over how anyone else does, and a bad seed means a tougher road to the medals rounds.

You can check out the Freeriders during next week's competition. For more information on the team, check out its Facebook page.

Mt. Dew Vertical at Camelback: Camelback Mountain in Tannersville is hosting the Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge on Saturday, a free race series that is open to the public with categories for skiers and snowboarders based on gender and age. Register for the event 8 a.m. in the Valley view Room. Racing begins on Pocono Raceway at 11 a.m. with awards and Victory Party 3 p.m. on the deck outside the Valley View Room.

Acrobag at Bear Creek: Bear Creek Mountain Resort and Conference Center is hosting a 50-foot-by-50-foot acrobag Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All participants must have a valid lift ticket plus pay an additional $25 per day to sue the air bag. The event begins 2 p.m. Friday and concludes 10 p.m. Sunday. Helmets are mandatory.

USA Luge ceremony at Blue Mountain: USA Luge officials are returning to Blue Mountain on Wednesday to officially retrieve the team's training sleds that were lost after they fell off a truck last month following the Luge Challenge at Blue Mountain.

USA Luge will officially receive the sleds from the finders in a 1 p.m. ceremony at the base of the tubing park entrance.

gary.blockus@mcall.com

610-820-6782

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