By Steve Hubrecht
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David Thompson Secondary School (DTSS) student Jack Kolesch came home with a bronze medal from the recent Freeride Junior World Championships in Kappl, Austria.

The Pioneer reported on Jack’s participation in the international event in the newspaper’s Jan. 27 edition, noting Jack is one of the top ranked junior (15 to 18 year old) freeride skiers in Canada, but that his focus heading into the international-level competition was simply to have fun, and, in his own words “not to go overboard and take it too seriously.”

Not too seriously, as it turns out, meant Jack grabbing the bronze, finishing third in the competition, which was held on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

Freeride skiing, or big mountain skiing, sees skiers ripping down steep mountains with natural snow cover and conditions. Skiers choose their own line down the terrain, skiing hard and fast and dropping off cliffs or other obstacles as they go. The skiers earn a score from judges who assess how hard the chosen line was and how well the skier skied it.

“It was a pretty crazy experience,” Jack told the Pioneer, upon arriving back in the Columbia Valley on Tuesday, Feb. 1.

Jack was the 14th of 30 skiers to head down the mountain face at Kappl and said that while standing in the starting gate “I had no big expectations in terms of placement. I just wanted to lay down a big line and have a blast.”

He did have a blast. And he did indeed lay down a big line. “I ended up going quite a bit bigger than I planned on my bottom air, but I landed it. I was over-the-moon excited skiing into the finishing corral,” said Jack.

Jack has competed on the junior North American freeride circuit for a number of years, but this was his first time at the world championships and his first competitive event outside of North America, so several facets of this competition were new to him.
“In North America you are allowed to physically inspect the course beforehand. You can’t ski your line as you would in the competition, but you can go down it and check out the drops, and the landings, to see them up close,” said Jack. “In Europe you can only look at the course from a distance with binoculars before the event.”

“It’s kind of neat the way they do that,” Jack adds. “I really enjoyed how it meant that you just have to get up there (at the start gate) and go, take it as it comes, without overthinking everything too much beforehand.”

Another thing that differs in European freeride competitions, as compared with North American ones, is that in North American events, all skiers must wait around a few hours to get their scores, while in European events, skiers wait just a minute or two in the finishing corral while their results are tabulated.

“So you know right away how you did, and where you placed. It definitely makes things a bit more exciting when you’re there at the finish line,” said Jack. “One of my good friends on the circuit had gone earlier in the race, and he had been in first place after his run. By the time it was my turn to go, a few other skiers had done better than him, so he was bumped down. It just adds another element to the whole event.”

Jack knew his run had gone well as he finished — his coach was watching the event from a nearby hill and ran down to the finishing corral to hug Jack — but he wasn’t sure exactly how well. “When I got the score, I realized it was the highest score of the day so far. I was in first place at that point. I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “It was wild. I was just so surprised.”

Jack had skied 14th out of 30 freeriders. There were still 16 more to go. Would any of them get a better score than him?

As they went, it turned out that two of them did. Jack, a good sportsman if ever there was one, was quick to tell the Pioneer, “they did ski better than me. They deserved to finish ahead of me.”

By the time 28 skiers had finished, and there were just two left, “it suddenly sunk in to me that even if these last two skiers did a better job than me, the worse I could do was fifth place.”

The second-last skier went, and did decently, but not quite as well as Jack. Then the last skier went and had an issue with landing one of his big airs, which was sure to result in the judges deducting points from his score.

“As soon as I saw that I thought ‘Oh my goodness, I’m actually going to finish third. I’m going to get a medal.’ I thought that right away, but it took a moment for it to settle in that this is the world championships, and I’m top three in the whole world,” said Jack.

The moment was a sweet one for Jack.

“It’s surreal, and the support from everybody was, and continues to be, overwhelming,” he said. “The whole experience was just amazing. The venue was crazy. It was a lot bigger, the run was longer, the features (cliffs and other obstacles) were larger. The snow wasn’t the best; it was very sun-affected, but at least soft. But, all in all, it was very burly. A lot of big cliffs, a lot of exposure. It was definitely the coolest venue I’ve ever skied.”

To make allowances for possible bad weather, the competition was scheduled for almost a week, even though not all that time was needed. When the weather was good, and the competition was completed right off the bat, the freeriders were given the rest of the time to just go have fun and ski as a group.

“That was great. I just got to rip with my coaches, teammates and some friends who were on some of the other national teams. It was fun, especially in Europe where you have these big, big resorts. Nothing is closed, you just go wherever you want. The terrain is mind-blowing,” said Jack. “Wild, rocky mountain faces that in North America would certainly be out of bounds are open and you can ski them. Obviously you have to be careful, but still, they are in-bounds.”

For now, Jack is back to DTSS and will be finishing the North American freeride competition circuit, before heading to the North American Junior Freeride Championships in Big Sky, Montana in April.

Jack is 17 years old, and so still has one more year of junior freeride eligibility, which he plans to use next winter when he is 18, with hopes of heading back to the next Freeride Junior World Championships.
“It was the trip of a lifetime. I’d love to get back there,” he said.