The Juneau Ski Club’s FreeRide Team on the top of Eaglecrest on Saturday. Left to right: Eero Wooldord, McKenna McNutt, Sophia Caputo, Gabi Griggs, JoJo Griggs, Austin Smith. (Courtesy Photo | Randy Bates).

The Juneau Ski Club’s FreeRide Team on the top of Eaglecrest on Saturday. Left to right: Eero Wooldord, McKenna McNutt, Sophia Caputo, Gabi Griggs, JoJo Griggs, Austin Smith. (Courtesy Photo | Randy Bates).

‘FreeRide’ program blazes new trail for skiers, boarders

Six-week class teaches how to ski difficult terrain

Eaglecrest Ski Area is known for its advanced skiing and riding terrain.

Nearly half of the mountain’s three dozen marked trails are designated as “most difficult” or “experts only,” which is reflected in some of the trail names: “Insane,” “Waterfall” and “Steep Chutes.”

Many of these steep runs are littered with boulders, cliffs and spruce trees, fun — and sometimes dangerous — obstacles that give even the most experienced skiers and riders challenges.

For the second year in a row, the Juneau Ski Club is hosting two six-week “FreeRide” courses that teach youth ages 12-18 how to navigate these obstacles in a safe, smart and stylish manner.

“There’s freeride teams all over the nation now where kids actually learn properly from coaches rather than learn by mistakes like we did,” Juneau Ski Club President Bruce Griggs said. “It’s a little more dangerous to learn by your mistakes.”

Griggs created the local program last year, and along with coaches Kyle Paddleford and Nathan Ord, teaches skiers and snowboarders skills like terrain selection, air awareness and snow safety — things you won’t learn in a traditional ski lesson.

Griggs, whose two daughters make up a third of this year’s class, grew up heliskiing in Juneau and competed several times in the World Extreme Skiing Championships in Valdez, the beginning of what he terms the “freeride revolution.” Freeriding is any kind of skiiing or snowboarding done on natural terrain, and in the past couple decades, the sport has taken on a life of its own as athletes compete in internationally-televised events.

“There’s so many excellent, world-class, big-mountain skiers who come from Eaglecrest in Juneau, snowboarders and skiers who are world-renowned,” Griggs said. “We needed to get a program to teach kids the safe way to approach (freeriding) because everybody was doing it anyways. We’re just lucky that we haven’t lost anyone.”

The class runs every Saturday for the next two and a half months. The first session started last Saturday and continues until the first week of February. The second session begins in mid-February and runs until the end of March.

Currently, there are six registered FreeRiders, all skiers. About half of the team, such as Sophia Caputo and JoJo and Gabi Griggs, are past JSC racers. JoJo Griggs, who appeared in U16 Western Region Alpine Championship Series last year, is excited to try something new.

“Freeskiing is a good skill to have, especially on a mountain like this,” she said.

Caputo, who was also did the class last year, was amazed at how much better she got over a short amount of time.

“Freeride just focuses a lot more on really building your confidence, especially when it comes to jumps and going over the cliff-things,” Caputo said.

Others who have taken the class, like Austin Smith, 16, and McKenna McNutt, 14, did not come with a racing background. Both freeskiers said they were glad they overcame their initial reservations to join the team.

“I feel more confident skiing areas that I would’ve looked at before and said, ‘No way,’” McNutt said.

Overcoming fears and taking on risks has brought the team closer together. Smith said his teammates have become his close friends.

“Everyone’s friendly, very inviting. I was really surprised about that,” Smith said. “I was kind of nervous going into it not knowing what to expect, but as soon as I got into it, it was like a family.”

With any luck, the season will culminate with a freeride competition and ski video (videography is also taught) to showcase everything that’s been taught.

Know and Go

Who: Skiers and snowboarders ages 12-18

Where: Eaglecrest Ski Area

When: Saturdays 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

Cost: Single session (Jan. 5-Feb. 9; Feb. 16-March 30): $200. Both sessions: $300

More info: juneauskiclub.com


• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nainsworth@juneauempire.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.


More in Home

Juneau Assembly members and other visitors examine a meeting room formerly used by the nine-member Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development on Monday, April 8, which is about 25% larger than the Assembly Chambers at City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Of three possible new City Hall buildings, one stands out — but plenty of proposed uses for other two

Michael J. Burns Building eyed as city HQ; childcare, animal shelter among options at school sites.

The Boney Courthouse in downtown Anchorage, across the street from the larger Nesbett Courthouse, holds the Alaska Supreme Court chambers. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska judge strikes down state’s cash payments to families using correspondence school programs

Decision will become a ‘hot-button legislative item’ in final weeks of session, lawmakers say.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, speaks to members of the Senate majority caucus’ leadership group on Friday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Schools, university and projects across Alaska are set to receive money from new budget bill

Alaska Senate sends draft capital budget to House as work continues on a state spending plan

A fenced lot proposed as a campsite for people experiencing homelessness located next to the city’s cold weather emergency shelter, in the background, is also next door to a businesses where extensive construction is scheduled, thus prompting city leaders to rethink the proposal. (Photo by Laurie Craig)
Indefinite ‘dispersed camping’ for homeless proposed by city leaders due to lack of suitable campsite

Proposed Rock Dump site is next to long-term construction, more costly than expected, report states.

A statue of William Henry Seward stands outside the Dimond Courthouse in downtown Juneau. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Juneau man convicted of sexual abuse of 15-year-old girl more than four years after incidents occur

JPD: Randy James Willard, 39, sent explicit videos to and engaged in sexual contact with victim.

Capital Transit buses stop at the Valley Transit Center on Thursday. Two bus routes serving areas of the Mendenhall Valley and near the airport will temporarily be discontinued starting April 22 due to lack of staff. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Capital Transit temporarily suspending two Mendenhall Valley routes due to shortage of drivers

Officials hope to fix situation by July; extra tourist buses also scaled back due to fleet shortage.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, watches as the tally board in the Alaska House of Representatives shows the vote against House Joint Resolution 7 on Thursday. Eastman supported the amendment. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House votes down constitutional guarantee for Permanent Fund dividend

Guarantee had been discussed as part of long-term plan to bring state expenses in line with revenue.

Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer and co-chair of the House Finance Committee, speaks Thursday on the House floor about the state’s operating budget. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House passes draft state budget amid warnings that state spending doesn’t balance

Changes during floor debate include $9M by Rep Andi Story, D-Juneau, for youth reading program.

Most Read