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Seventeen-year-old Evan Sheff performs at the USSA Freestyle Junior Nationals in Steamboat Springs, Colo., where he competed in aerials and slope-style competitions. Sheff has been a member of USSA since 2008 and has participated in national competition in either Colorado or New Hampshire each year. Photo Contributed by John Sheff

Cloquet teen loves to ski - right side up or upside down

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There are some 17-year-olds who can't point to New Hampshire on a map. Others couldn't find Colorado. But for Evan Sheff, they're like his second home.

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For the past four years, the Cloquet senior has been traveling to both states competing in the United States Ski Association's Freestyle Skiing Junior Nationals. In that time, Sheff's love for high-flying jumps and big air on skis has flourished.

"I've always loved skiing," said Sheff, who began around the age of 8. "I tried snowboarding for a bit in middle school because it was the cool thing to do, but one day at Spirit Mountain I saw some guys doing tricks. I tried it out and have been doing it ever since."

After swiftly excelling at the sport, Sheff joined the USSA in 2008. In his first year of top-notch competition, he advanced to nationals in Steamboat Springs, Colo. He then qualified in 2009 and 2010 and competed in New Hampshire.

Last week Sheff completed another trip to Steamboat Springs. In addition to skiing, Sheff visited several professional training facilities and he even got to meet some Winter X Games professionals.

"It was a lot of fun," said Sheff. "It was really cool meeting the pros. We got to hang with them a lot and just chill. It wasn't like a huge deal or anything like meeting a celebrity, because they were all really just nice guys."

Evan took the memorable trip with his father, John. The two traveled along with a pair of other competitors from Minnesota, as skiers competed from last Wednesday until Saturday. John said it was a time well spent with his son.

"It was the best," he said. "The weather was great and the competition was good. We had fun."

Over the years, Evan has traveled to both Colorado and New Hampshire with his mother, Patti. Last week was the first time making the haul with his dad.

"It was fun to go with him," Evan said. "It was just a real good father-son experience."

Evan qualified for this year's nationals following his stellar performances in a number of USSA qualifying events throughout the winter. According to John, Evan took part in roughly half a dozen competitions around Minneapolis and Duluth to slowly increase his national ranking.

"You have to be ranked within the top 50 to get to nationals," said John, mentioning that over time, Evan has increased his marks in the Central Division in the USSA. "He was ranked in the top 10."

In freestyle skiing, there are a number of different events, including the slope-style, aerials and half-pipe competitions. Before nationals, Evan was among the country's best in slope-style and aerials, and even won a half-pipe competition during the season.

Evan has really improved his level of skiing over time.

"He's gotten so much better," John said, noting that Evan begins his training around October and gets on the first snow in November. "He really throws out some ridiculous tricks now. He's doing things now that he never would have tried a couple of years ago. It's fun to watch."

That aggressiveness is something that has grown in Evan. Before heading to nationals this winter, he knew he wanted to go for it all. He wanted to win the whole thing.

"I figured, 'Why hold back?'" recalled Evan. "I went out there and tried my hardest."

Competing in both the slope-style and aerials competitions - foregoing the half-pipe - Sheff was stellar. And although he wasn't crowned the champion, John watched his son give it his all.

"He was a top-10 skier out there, no doubt, I was very impressed," he said. "The judges were tough and landing is critical. He over-rotated once on his 720 and that hurt. But there's a lot of kids out there that make you go 'Wow!' The sport has really taken off."

His finish in the 20s in slope-style and 30s in aerials was far from disappointing. Heck, it's nationals. Evan loves the sport. To him, it's something that's also enjoyable.

"You can really just express yourself with it," Evan said. "There's so many things that you can do. No one is ever the same. I'm definitely looking to continue skiing in college. It's a lot of fun."

As for the fourth cross-country trip in as many years for the Sheff family, it never gets old.

"It was a blast," said John. "Everything was incredible."

Esko's Paige Tranah returns home as well

Esko freshman Paige Tranah also recently returned from competing in the USSA Alpine Skiing Junior Olympics in Aspen, Colo. For the first-time competitive skier, her trip along with her mother, Lisa, was perfect.

"Oh my, it was such a blast," said the 14-year-old Paige. "It was such an amazing atmosphere."

According to Lisa, Paige finished around the middle of the pack in the 80-some competing skiers over their one-week visit to the mountains. But all in all, Paige's placing was the last thing they worried about.

"There really are no words to explain it," Lisa said. "I was just in awe of Paige. So many people couldn't believe it was her first year competing. Things were just excellent.

"We're exhausted," continued Lisa, "but we had so much fun."

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