By Matt Williams
---- — Boxford’s Ryan McElmon has gone national in the freestyle skiing world.
So far, he’s having a world of success.
The 14-year-old, who was East Coast Junior Freestyle champion last winter, began competing in Park City, Utah, last month and has been to the podium every time out. The bigger, more intense competitions out West came about when McElmon joined the United States Ski & Snowboard Association’s TEAM Academy in Utah earlier this year.
After being asked to apply last year, McElmon was accepted to the TEAM (Total Educational and Athletic Model) program. There are approximately 25 students in the school; the local youngster is one of four that aren’t already members of the U.S. Ski team.
”It was pretty amazing. When my mom told me I was accepted, I remember jumping around in my living room,” McElmon said from Utah recently. “I get to ski every day ... and that’s been my dream since started to compete.”
McElmon first clicked into a pair of skis when he was 2 years old and started competing just two years ago. He loved the sport immediately, but figured as a kid he’d spend more time playing different sports like hockey.
”I didn’t want to buckle down until I really had to make some decisions. It’s better not to worry about that stuff until you have to,” he explained. “Now, I’m at the point where skiing can be a big part of my life through high school and beyond.”
Getting big air
Moving to Utah in November, McElmon attends school at the U.S. Center for Excellence, a school for elite student-athletes. He’s been training every day with Axis Freeride, which was founded by Olympian Chris Haslock.
Competition season began in January, and McElmon has been tearing up the slopes. He finished second at an event at Utah’s Olympic Park, second at the Park City Freestyle Classic and first at the Sun Valley Freestyle Spectacular — all in January.
”It’s been awesome and pretty much blown away my expectations,” said McElmon. “I went in hoping to get top 10 and I’ve been to the podium in every competition.”
McElmon competed on the “B” circuit last year, for skiers up to age 16, and moved to the “A” level with competitors as old as 18-21 this year. Though the competition is tougher, he felt the increased training he’s had had helped him elevate his game and he’s certainly been up to the challenge.
At the end of competition season, the ultimate goal is to accumulate enough points to qualify for junior nationals, which is in March.
”I’ve trained quite a bit so I think it sort of equaled out,” he said. “I go in to every comp trying to do my best, and I’ve been lucky enough to do very well.”
Freestyle skiing entails aerials and jumps, and McElmon has also been taking part in slopestyle skiing, which has big air and difficult jumps. The courses out West are more expansive than those in New England and have bigger jumps.
”Jumps span 15-to-25 feet and this year the minimum jump is a 40-footer. They’re spanning 35-to-55 feet, so it’s more difficult to try things. But once you try them, it can be that much more fun and more impressive,” he said.
The ultimate goal: going pro
One of the most unique things about freestyle skiing is that every course is different, requiring different routines based on the jumps and weather conditions. Skiers have a few practice days — which always seem to have better weather than competition days, McElmon joked — to iron out their routines on each course.
“You have to go out there with an open mind. When you’re skiing it’s never going to be perfect, so you just show up and have fun and go with your best,” McElmon said.
The young skier from Boxford has had plenty of help from sponsors along his journey. He received a scholarship from the Flyin Ryan Foundation, which honors a freestyle skier who passed away at age 25 and lived life to its fullest.
McElmon also has sponsorships with Volkl skis, Pok helmets, Karhu shoes and Kraft apparel, many of which he attracted through a website he runs along with his mom.
Going forward, he plans to remain in Utah to train even beyond this competition season. There are even water-based jumps for safe practice.
“My all-time goal is to go pro,” he said. “I know that’s a lot of work, but its definitely a possibility if I put in enough effort.”