Freestyle skiing brothers are flying high
On skis since they were each 15 months old, brothers Tyler and Trevin Olson won a second place state trophy for Cloquet High School in January ... in a sport that isn't even on the list of extracurriculars at the school.
Tyler, a 15-year-old sophomore at CHS, and Trevin, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Cloquet Middle School, are freestyle skiers. Not a term you're familiar with? Imagine something that combines alpine skiing with the aerobatics of snowboarding and skateboard-style tricks on rails. An Olympic sport since 1992, freestyle skiing can consist of a skier performing aerial flips and spins, and can include skiers sliding on rails and boxes on their skis.
The Olson boys did try more traditional alpine ski racing when they were 6 and 4, but got bored very quickly and switched to freestyle skiing at Spirit Mountain the same season.
Freestyle skiing is anything but boring.
"It's something new every day," said Tyler. "And with freestyle, there's always room for improvement."
"I'm pretty much learning a new trick every day and I get to meet a lot of new people," he said.
The pair agree that the terrain park at Spirit Mountain is the best in Minnesota, so they're happy to train there.
For his part, Dad Arin Olson describes the Duluth ski resort as a "mall" to his sons. He drives them there from their home near Wrenshall almost daily in the winter, and they spend hours skiing, learning and practicing tricks in the Spirit Mountain terrain park with their G-2 teammates and others. At the same time, they hang out with all kinds of people who share their interests, many of them bearing Go-Pro cameras used to videotape the many stunts — even the time that Trevin lost his helmet in the middle of a 720-degree spin done while he was almost upside down.
"I know more kids at the ski hill than I do at school," said Tyler.
To go with different faces at the ski hill, there is a whole new language. When the boys talk about their sport, strange terms like "cork 7," "rodeo 5" and "flat 3s" trip off their tongues.
(A cork is an off-axis spin that is leaned back, but so that the skier doesn't go completely inverted at any point. It can be done in varying degrees of rotation: 360, 540, 720 and 900. A cork 7 is a cork spin with 720 degrees of rotation. A rodeo, on the other hand, is a spin with a full inversion, so the skier's feet will go directly over his or her head at some point. Again these can be done in varying degrees of rotation. A flatspin is close to a rodeo spin, but the skier never gets completely inverted. The line between the two is blurry, according to www.newscholers.com, the source for the above definitions.)
"And those are just jumps," explains Arin Olson. "Start adding grabs and it's completely different."
Stunts and tricks are part of both types of freestyle ski competitions: slopestyle, which features tricks off and on both jumps and rails and rail jam, which is all about the rails, but still includes plenty of flips and spins along with other tricks and style elements that are meticulously scored by judges.
Learning all these tricks does come with a certain amount of risk. Tyler points to a scar above his eyebrow where he broke his skull in two places doing a backflip on the trampoline, which is where they train in the backyard in the summer months. During the interview, Trevin revealed some colorful bruises on his leg, acquired when he and his coach Jonathan Schmidt collided "bombing" down the ski hill after a run and Trevin ended up hitting a post with his leg.
Arin quickly pointed out that skiers wear helmets and back protectors that harden on impact for training and competing and they make sure their kids' gear is top of the line so they don't have to worry as much. And, even though they're both skiers too, they do worry.
"Mom (Tobi) closes her eyes sometimes," Arin said. "It was harder when they were younger though, and just learning their way. Now they know what they can and can't do and they typically know where they want their feet to be when they land."
Tyler points out that their coaches have taught them "how to fall" and Trevin explains that "flipping is about commitment."
"If you panic, it will be a bad situation," his dad said.
"The less you think about it, the better," adds Tyler.
It's been a very good season so far for the Olson brothers.
In addition to their second place overall team finish — the pair was a team of two at the 2017 Minnesota State High School Snowboarding and Freeski Championship mentioned in the first paragraph of this story — Trevin took first in rail jam for his age group while Tyler took second in his own age group, plus they took fourth and third, respectively, in slope style for their age groups.
In fact, noted their dad, both Tyler and Trevin have taken first place in their age group at their past five competitions, with another set for this weekend. That means a fifth trip to Junior Nationals in April is almost a certainty.
Both boys have plans to continue training and competing as long as they can.
"I'll probably pass it down generations," said Trevin, with a nod to the fact that their skier parents made sure they learned to ski young and gave them the support they needed to truly fly. "It's too much fun to stop."