Heavenly snowboard team becoming established force
Saturday’s USASA competition at Sierra-at-Tahoe is a perfect example of how far the newly-formed Heavenly Snowboard Foundation Team has come.
“People were mad that there were ski teams at the high schools, but not any snowboard teams,” said coach Ed McClain Tuesday in his new office at the Heavenly Ski Foundation. “We decided that it was the right time to start one.”
A grassroots collection of motivated coaches, interested parents and skeleton crew of 12 high school snowboarders convened at Sierra-at-Tahoe in 1996 to comprise the original cast of what has developed into the foundation’s first snowboard team.
Nameless, lacking locker-room facilities and offices, without any sponsorships and faced with a small budget, the organization struggled to gain acceptance within the community that season.
“We were only a club sport at the high schools in ’96,” said McClain, an accomplished snowboarder and skier who has lived on the South Shore for the last 15 years. “We had no real identity at the time.”
Today, the organization boasts 32 members and welcomes boarders from ages 8 to 18. The team competes in several age divisions at United States Amateur Snowboard Association (USASA) sanctioned events at several Tahoe-area venues. McClain has three assistant coaches, Nathan Yant, Trevor Brown and Sanae Iijima. Even Shaun Palmer, a friend and Winter X-Games legend, guest coaches when he is in town.
Most importantly, the addition of the “Heavenly” name has meant lots of perks for the team: an office at the foundation building, a lunchroom, locker room and training facilities, video analysis and runs designed especially for the Heavenly boarders.
“All of the tools are in place at Heavenly,” said McClain, who plans to accept first-time boarders in the program for the 1999-2000 season. “That stuff helps when you are trying to start a tradition with a team.”
It wasn’t always this convenient for McClain, though.
The team’s first year at Sierra took place in pretty spartan conditions. Sierra officials, though “very accommodating,” had trouble finding space for the young organization. McClain and co-founder Mike Baer, who has since moved to Park City, Utah, advertised at the area’s high schools, sending flyers home with students. Newspaper advertisements and word-of-mouth referrals followed, but the team only attracted 12 athletes.
“The situation brought us closer together,” said Heavenly boarder Dustin Singler, one of the team’s original members and a Junior Nationals freestyle champion in the 16-17 boys class. “It was a bumpy year. Nobody knew how things were going to turn out.”
The team’s second year brought substantial improvements. The highest GPA among South Tahoe teams elevated the team from club status to a quasi-varsity sport. The team could now call itself the South Tahoe Snowboard Team, which went a long way in helping the team gain legitimacy and add sponsorships, including Palmer Snowboards and Heavenly’s Boardinghouse. McClain also added a hybrid locker area/office/storage area beneath a stairwell at Sierra. The team added two new members and continued to compete in more USASA events.
This season has brought the most success for the team, though. Earlier this year, American Ski Corporation, Heavenly’s parent company, approached McClain about the possibility of moving the team to Heavenly. McClain jumped at the opportunity.
Since the beginning of the Heavenly association, membership has more than doubled and the team now claims a number of nationally-ranked boarders under its wings.
“Heavenly has made it so easy for us,” Singler said. “All the bumps have been smoothed out and everything is a lot better.”
The increasing national popularity of the sport has also been a boon for the Heavenly Ski Team.
“Snowboarding is a fun sport and I think it broke the stagnation that skiing was heading toward,” McClain said. “What snowboarding did was introduce a new way to get down the hill.”
Several of the team’s members wear two hats, representing South Tahoe and other area schools as well as competing under the Heavenly name. Two boarders – Aaron Hernandez and Jared Pallant – compete with the Junior National Team and attend snowboarding camps in Colorado that are recognized as proving grounds for future National and Olympic boarders.
McClain hopes to send some of Heavenly’s elite boarders to the USASA Nationals April 5-11 in Telluride, Colo. And though the team has come a long way since the early days at Sierra-at-Tahoe, its sense of purpose remains the same.
“Our philosophy is to create championship people, off the slopes and on,” McClain said. “We are trying to foster skills that the kids can use as adults. If we happen to produce some great boarders, that’s great too.”
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After more than 70 years of operating with a term deemed derogatory by many Native Americans, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has changed its name to Palisades Tahoe.