Trace Cooke in the middle of a 360 at Wrangle the Chute. “I took off a meter up from where my ski tails are

COLUMN: Making it pro in the freeride world

A Nelson Star reporter reflects on the trials and accomplishments of local freeride athletes.

When I returned to work last week after my weekend, I had a message that a young free skier had dropped by the office to speak with me. I had reported on his progress throughout the winter as he pushed his way through a second season of hucking himself down the cliffs and mountain faces in Europe at world famous ski resorts in France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland.

Trace Cooke was back in town and I wanted to know what he had to share.

With two deadline days back to back, for two days I resisted the urge to call because I already had many news stories to cover.

I had interviewed Trace and his sister Haley last fall about their upcoming travels to compete in Europe. Sixteen-year-old Haley had made the cut to complete at the Junior Freeride Tour in Grandvalira, Andorra.

Siblings Trace and Haley Cooke. Photo by T. Hynd

Her 19-year-old brother Trace was embarking on his second year skiing on the Freeride World Qualifiers. His goal, he told me, was to make the Freeride World Tour by being one of the top three skiers in the North American region. This would give him the invite-only entry to compete in the 2016 Freeride World Tour. That is making it into the world of professional skiing. The pros.

While I didn’t find it lofty, I did wonder how likely it would be. Not because he wasn’t a good skier, but because I had spent the previous winter following and reporting on the only Canadian  snowboarder, Jamie Rizzuto, as he battled for second place in the Freeride World Tour. He was 36 and he was there mostly on his own dime. He told me one of his strengths was his experience. Competing against Europeans with far lower rankings but full sponsorship, enough to be boarding in New Zealand through the summer season training for the next season on snow, was the reality North Americans face,  especially under-sponsored Canadians

Jamie would return to Fernie to work construction, saving every penny, and when it came to thanking his biggest sponsor, it was his father. And he wasn’t speaking metaphorically. He finished second in the world last year and seventh this season.

When I called Trace, he told me he had made it to the world tour. This was big news.

He is the only Canadian skier in the men’s division to make the cut and he is still a teenager.

There is more that he shared with me about his struggles and solutions to how he wrangled a spot on the tour, all with merit.

Trace will be working in the bush this summer planting trees for a living and when he comes home, he has a trainer lined up to “work every skiing muscle so I’m 100 per cent ready for the 2016 world tour”.

And then I reflect on the recent stories I have written about the current Whitewater Freeride Team, thanks to their coaches keeping me in the loop. Coaches like Peter Velisek who referred to Trace as the team’s “first alumni”.  Velisek, by the way, is currently coaching adult clinics and exploring the fjords of Norway. His love for skiing was apparent when I interviewed him as a ski movie star for Route 3 Magazine. Coach Dano Slater saying the highlight of last weekends Junior freeski competition was skiing the course with the entire team in a rat pack [after the comp], airing the jumps with back flips, which they couldn’t do in the comp without being disqualified.

These athletes love to ski and it shows.

The places that skiing can take you. Over this ridge, down that valley, across an ocean, to the top of the world and right back into yourself.

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