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Our Neighbors....Evan Sheff

While the majority of kids these days hit the slopes with a snowboard, Cloquet high school freshman Evan Sheff opts for a pair of skis. They're not any old pair of skis, however, and his skiing is anything but old-school. Sheff is a freestyle ski...

While the majority of kids these days hit the slopes with a snowboard, Cloquet high school freshman Evan Sheff opts for a pair of skis.

They're not any old pair of skis, however, and his skiing is anything but old-school.

Sheff is a freestyle skier who routinely confronts jumps, halfpipes and rails, performing tricks like his favorite - a 360 "truck driver," where he does one full rotation in the air while grabbing one ski in each hand.

This is his first year of regular competition as a member of the Duluth Superior Alpine Club Freestyle Team and he's shown himself to be somewhat of a natural.

He's found so much success that he'll take his newly-honed skills to Steamboat Springs, Colo., to compete in the Junior Olympics on the USSA Central Division Freestyle Team with the nation's best young freestyle skiers March 3-9.

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"I've done pretty well this year and I'm pretty happy with it," Sheff said. "And I've never skied out west, so it should be a great trip."

Sheff, 14, qualified for the Junior Olympics in the slopestyle and aerials categories in his age group by earning points in regional competitions throughout the season. Based on the point system, skiers who make the top 50 in any of the freestyle competition categories earn a place at Junior Olympics. Sheff is ranked 39th in slopestyle (which he describes as a combination of jumps and rails and other obstacles on a course) and 44th in aerials. Sheff said he knew he was close to making it to Junior Olympics, but he and his family didn't know for sure until the last week or two.

"It all happened really fast," he said.

Throughout the season, in regional competitions in Duluth, Minneapolis and Michigan, Sheff placed near the top every time. He claimed five wins and five second-place finishes in various events.

"I like competing because everyone pushes you to do better and try new things," he said.

Although he seems to be a natural in the freestyle environment, he tried many sports before finding it.

"I've tried a lot of team sports - basketball, football, baseball," he said. "But I like individual [sports] where you make your own decisions."

Before joining the alpine team, Sheff participated in one freestyle competition last year. He wound up taking second place in halfpipe and third in slopestyle. Sheff was hooked.

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Freestyle, as the name implies, is all about skiers making decisions, often in a split second as they travel downhill. When the sport began, freestyle skiing was named for the free and creative element introduced by the athletes and included ballet, moguls and modest aerial maneuvers all in one run, according to the United States Ski and Snowboard Association.

Now, six different disciplines make up freestyle skiing according to USSA: aerials, halfpipe, moguls, dual moguls, ski cross and slopestyle.

Sheff has tried all these disciplines and has found slopestyle to be his favorite.

Slopestyle consists of a kind of obstacle course with different paths a skier can choose to take at different points.

"There's so much variety," he said. "It's different every time."

Sheff began skiing at age 7, but soon traded the skis for a snowboard.

"I started out at Mont du Lac on skis with my dad," he remembered.

His dad, John Sheff, is a skier, while his mom, Patti, and 11-year-old sister Arica, ski occasionally.

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"None of them have tried any of this kind of skiing, though," he said. "But we're all pretty excited to get out [to Steamboat]."

After Sheff made the switch to snowboarding, he kept it up until about three years ago, when he just decided he liked skiing better.

"I just prefer it, I'm not really sure why," he said.

He started hitting jumps with his friends while on skis and realized he liked the thrill and competition of it.

"One day I just went for it because I saw what other people were doing and I wanted to do it better," he said. "I tried a spread eagle and made it."

He now skis on equipment made for freestyle events. He has two pairs of skis currently. One pair has tips at both ends and bindings in the center, which allows him the flexibility to land facing forward or backwards. The other is a pair he uses for slopestyle which includes riding down railings and other obstacles that can be hard on skis.

As a member of the ski team, Sheff appreciates the help of his two coaches, who give good tips and advice but don't tell him what to do.

"They stand by the jumps while we [ski them] and afterwards we have a meeting about how we did and what we could do better," Sheff explained. "They give us pointers and it helps a lot."

Sheff said he's also learned about his form and style from coaches videotaping them while doing tricks.

"The whole team helps you progress with support," he said. "We push each other to do better. It's a lot of fun."

He's also learned about all the factors that go into performing well in a competition. The weather is a huge factor, for example, and Sheff is hoping it doesn't snow during the Olympic event.

"[Falling] snow makes it tough to land," he explained. "Temperatures also make a huge difference and how everyone else performs affects you, too."

Sheff and four of his teammates qualified for the competition, including Colin Lindemood of Esko, a senior who has competed in the event previously. Lindemood will compete in moguls, dual moguls and aerials. They practice three nights a week and Sheff said he's often on the slopes at least one additional day as well.

All that time on the hill doesn't leave an abundance of free time during the winter, but when he finds it, he also enjoys yet another snow sport - snowmobiling.

In the summer, he likes to ride his bike, skate board and hang out with his friends.

"I don't sit still very much, except maybe to play some video games," he said. Of course, he mostly plays a freestyle snowboard/ski game. Players can choose if they want to ride a snowboard or ski during the game.

"I always choose the skis," he said.

He's also hoping for a chance at the Olympics some day, although they don't yet offer all the freestyle events at those games.

The X Games, however, which focus on extreme action sports, have Sheff's eye.

"You have to make a name for yourself and get invited," he said. "I'm definitely interested."

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