“Let’s make sure we take off on a solid base this time guys, try to focus on rotating your feet, hips and knees all together.”
A group of brightly-clad snowboarders are polishing their 180s on Marmot Basin’s upper mountain. As the group carves down Paradise run towards Punchbowl, they stop periodically to regroup. Instructor Cam Vos, who you can tell is smiling even under his face warmer, reminds the boarders to keep their body alignment centered over their boots.
“Use your lower body to initiate your spin,” Vos says. “That way you’ll be able to control your landing.”
Nodding attentively, the group soaks in what the 27-year-old Vos is saying. One at a time, they cruise down the mountain, jumping off small knolls and using the hill’s features to switch directions. Vos likes what he’s seeing and wants to reward their persistence.
“Nice work guys, let’s set up on top of that roller and we’ll try to pop off it for some air.”
These are the members of the Jasper Free Mountain Snowboard Club. They are between the ages of seven and 17. And catching air is their favourite thing to do.
One after the other they boost into the ether, eyes widening in their goggles as the ground drifts away from them. Four safe landings later and they’re trading high fives, setting up for the next run.
“They’re passionate,” Vos says while loading on the chairlift. “All these guys talk about is snowboarding.”
“Can we go to the mini rails?”
Seven-year-old Seth Johannsson, the club’s youngest member, is begging his coach, Sabrina Lyon, to make their way to the freestyle park. Every Sunday, Seth, Kira Peel and Haley Wills ride alongside Lyon, concentrating on their turns, their balance and their speed before finding their way to some jumps and bumps. When they get there, Seth says, they go fast, “like Cam.”
“After we make some more good toeside turns we’ll go to the rail park,” promises Lyon.
For the older group, which includes Liam Mackinnon, Tao Muyres, Kace Ellis, Steven Shuttl and Jonathon Jesperson, all-mountain skills are emphasized. So is goal setting. For 13-year-old Mackinnon, one of his goals this year was to take the biggest jump in the terrain park.
“My goal this year was to hit the big kicker,” he said while riding the Canadian Rockies Express. The big kicker is a 30-foot table top jump that looks even bigger when barreling towards it at high speeds. Come up short and you land on the hard knuckle. Go long and you land flat from 20 feet high. The perfect amount of speed and technique—not to mention a healthy dose of courage—is required to launch. Not lacking in any of the above, Liam soared to his goal earlier this season.
“It felt awesome,” he said from beneath his ski mask.
For Vos, Lyon and Sean MacCarron, who started the Free Mountain Club five years ago, Liam’s progression embodies the spirit of the program. The club’s philosophy is centered on constant development of skills while being respectful and supportive of their fellow boarders. Of course it also has to be fun.
“We want to develop leadership skills,” Vos says. “That means no one’s going to pick on anyone, and we’re all here to support each other.”
Vos also is cognizant that snowboarder stereotypes exist. For some, the mere mention of the word “snowboarder” conjures up images of bandana-wearing, foul-mouthed, garbage-chucking punks. The club actively works to counter that image by encouraging its members to lead by example—whether in the lift line, the ski lodge or on the chairlift.
“We don’t want to be rebellious riders,” he explains. “We want them to be good role models.”
At lunch, there’s a bit of that on display. While the coaches draw up a plan for the afternoon, the rest of the group chows down. Kace Ellis, who’s been with the club for five years, gets a reminder from Steven Shuttl, the group’s oldest rider, to pick up after himself.
“Hey Dace, throw your empty plate in the garbage,” Steven chides his poutine-eating buddy.
“Oh yeah,” Dace smiles.
Back outside, the day isn’t long enough to wear the group out. They boost off of every little bump and jump, tweaking, grabbing and spinning, with Vos and Lyon providing instruction and encouragement.
With one last jump to hit before the gang has to head home—to Jasper, Hinton and Edmonton—the older riders let seven-year-old Seth go first.
“Let’s cheer him on guys,” Vos says.
“Yeah Seth!” they all respond.