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Life’s a slope for DU’s club snowboard team

For DU snowboarders like Seth Wytrwal, life is all about the ride. Photo: Michael Richmond

They are not your traditional college athletes. They don’t have a coach, and their uniforms, if you can call them that, are baggy winter parkas and pants. Tricks are their currency: air to fakie, alley oop, half-cab, grind, McTwist. They don’t shoot, skate, run or score goals.

They ride.

They are the 12 members of DU’s club snowboard team, who hit the Colorado slopes several days a week and compete up to five times a season in US Amateur Snowboarding Association events, tackling the slalom, giant slalom, halfpipe, slopestyle and boardercross specialties.

DU’s competitive snowboarders may not have 6 a.m. practices like, say, the basketball team, but they’re just as serious about their sport. They build their lives around snowboarding — scheduling classes to allow for practice time, curtailing partying so a hangover doesn’t slow them down the next day.

“There’s a sense of happiness and accomplishment,” says team manager Drew Amer, a sophomore business major. “I haven’t felt that with anything else but snowboarding.”

It was snowboarding that brought most of the team members to DU in the first place. The University’s strong academic programs were appealing, but the chance to ride sealed the deal.

“DU had the whole package,” says Snowboarding Club President and team member Kim Kent, a junior hospitality major.

Snowboarding has been an Olympic sport since 1998 and is the world’s fastest-growing winter sport. Yet, it is not sanctioned by the NCAA, and relatively few colleges even support club-level competition.

DU is one of those few. The University provides $3,500 annually for the 4-year-old, 50-member Snowboarding Club, one of DU’s 20 club sports. Of that, $1,000 is used for team expenses such as entry fees. The club and team also hold fundraisers, and club members support their team by volunteering at competitions. Plus, the team receives in-kind gifts from its sponsors.

Serious snowboarders crave their sport like a junkie craves a fix. They know it may hurt like hell, but the rush will be worth it. Snowboarding Club VP and team member Dan Ritchie spent his entire first day boarding falling down, he says, but he bought his first snowboard the very next day.

“It’s an escape,” says Ritchie (no relation to DU’s chancellor), a junior business major. “I feel better after a day of snowboarding, even if I can’t move.”

The challenge also calls Ritchie and his teammates to snowboarding. There’s always a new trick beckoning, new terrain begging to be explored.

Snowboarding’s adrenaline-charged allure comes in the form of a nearly 40-mile-per-hour plunge down an icy slope with a 60-foot jump looming ahead. You’ve got to have the right speed, the right alignment — every part of your body in just the right place, every muscle tuned — as you launch into the air and twist into a 720-degree spin while doing a front flip. You have just seconds to complete the Misty Flip before the ground rushes up to meet you with bone-crunching force.

Yeah, it’s a dangerous sport, and wrists, ankles and knees often pay the price, as Kent can attest. After three concussions, a separated shoulder, a torn meniscus and a wonky ACL, her doctors have told her to get off the slopes. But, she says, “Snowboarding has totally gotten under my skin. The prospect of stopping scares me to death.”

Kent’s diehard, “no pain, no gain” attitude is shared by her teammates. Amer says he loves just cruising on the slopes with friends. But it’s competition, he notes, that pushes him to get better and try tricks like a 540° in the halfpipe, which he’s trying to perfect this season.

If he doesn’t nail the trick, he’ll keep trying. For Amer and his teammates alike, snowboarding is a passion that isn’t easily sidelined.

“Riding is the closest thing to meditation I’ve ever experienced,” Kent says. “It clears my mind.

“I love to go fast. I love the outdoors,” she adds. “Boarding is an adrenaline rush — an escape. It makes me happy, and nothing compares. Nothing.”

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