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Heavenly Foundation freestyle team begins season under new direction

Anthony Gentile
agentile@tahoedailytribune.com
Heavenly Foundation freestyle skier Zach Shearer heads down the hill during a recent practice. Shearer, who attends South Tahoe High, is one of the team’s captains this season.
Courtesy Photo |

HEAVENLY FOUNDATION FREESTYLE SKI TEAM 2015 SCHEDULE

Jan. 2-4 Divisional Event (at Squaw Valley)

Jan. 13-16 Noram Invitational (at Deer Valley, Utah)

Jan. 22-25 Noram Invitational (at Apex, Canada)

Jan. 30-Feb. 1 Divisional Event (at Heavenly)

Feb. 14-16 Divisional Event (at Squaw Valley)

Feb. 20-23 Noram Invitational (at Val Saint-Come, Canada)

Feb. 26-March 1 Noram Invitational (at Killington, Vt.)

March 6-8 Divisionals (at Heavenly)

March 16-22 Junior Nationals (at Park City, Utah)

March 26-29 Nationals (at Steamboat Springs, Colo.)

April 3-5 Divisional Spring Event (at Squaw Valley)

The Heavenly Foundation freestyle ski team begins a new season headed in a new direction. Erik Skinner was named head coach of the team last November, and already has lofty goals.

“Heavenly used to be a dominant powerhouse that would put kids on the U.S. team every other year — I want to get back to that domination effect,” Skinner said.

The team started training in December and began competition Friday with a divisional event at Squaw Valley Ski Resort — the three-day event kicked off Heavenly Foundation’s 2015 season. The club is pointed through the United States Ski and Snowboard Association, where skiers compete for points that put them on a national level.



“Whether you want to be a weekend warrior and it’s something you want to do through high school or if you have that Olympic dream, we have a program every step of the way,” Skinner said. “I want to make it a program where there’s an entry level and there’s an exit level.”

Skinner started his career as a cross-country skier before switching to moguls, where he competed for four years. When injuries forced him to give up the sport competitively, Skinner switched to coaching — he brings two decades of experience to Heavenly Foundation’s freestyle program.



Skinner began his coaching career at Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club in Steamboat Springs, Colo. in 1994. He ran the club’s program for 12 years during that time, and coached everyone from 7-year-olds to Olympic medalists at the club currently serves approximately 1,200 kids.

“I’ve worked with some coaching greats in the sport over the years and have had access to incredible information,” Skinner said. “I’ve been able to learn a lot and touch on pretty much every aspect — I’ve done a little bit of everything.”

Heavenly Foundation’s first-year coach moved to South Lake Tahoe with his family in June, two months after his wife took a job on the South Shore. He will take over a program with a smaller scope than the one he ran in Colorado, and said his first order of business this season is to change the culture surrounding the program.

“I want to change the local freestyle ski culture, ski culture and the culture that will help raise my and other people’s children to be happy, successful people in their community that will love ‘sport’ and understand how it helps them in their life every day,” Skinner said.

The team currently has 12 skiers ranging from 9 to 16 years old, divided into two programs — junior freestyle and competitive freestyle. South Lake Tahoe natives Zach Shearer and Mia Idzorek are the team’s co-captains — both attend South Tahoe High.

“They’re good role models and team leaders — they mentor the kids, they help out if I ask them to and they’re also very driven,” Skinner said. “The younger kids really acknowledge that and look at that as something to aspire to.”

Local athletes on the team include Aaron Budnik, Andy Budnik, Range Chapman, Gabbi Fisher, Emerson Hansa-Bever and Hannah Lucas of South Lake Tahoe along with Zachary Johns of Zephyr Cove. The team also features Karli Anderson of Gardnerville, Nev. as well as Elvira Lundberg and Michaela Thimot from the Bay Area.

“There’s definitely some talent all through the ranks — they’re all very intelligent, very good young athletes,” Skinner said. “They all want to compete, and we’re going to have kids finish at every level — some podiums at overalls and kids getting ribbons in their age groups.”

The Heavenly Foundation freestyle ski team trains regularly at Heavenly Mountain Resort and Kirkwood Mountain Resort. Its season continues through April — stops include Heavenly and Squaw Valley along with events in Utah, Colorado, Vermont and Canada.


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