Snowboarding conjures up gravity-defying moves and McTwists of Shaun White, leaping off of a snowy halfpipe lip, flipping, twisting, and turning until gravity finally pulls him back to the downslope so he can prepare for his next jump.
In Alpine snowboarding, the board never leaves the ground. It's about speed and handling above all else. Snowboarders carve up mountains as they compete for who can travel around the flags, down the slope and past the finish line first.
"I like going faster," said Tate DePaepe, a sophomore at Eden Prairie High School competing at the FIS Junior World Championships at the Rogla Ski Resort in Slovenia on Tuesday and Wednesday. "I also like that feeling of the board a lot more … like being able to actually set in and hold the carve."
DePaepe is one of seven teenage athletes from Minnesota's G Team snowboard and freeski club competing in the parallel slalom and giant parallel slalom events. Six members of the 12-person team selected to represent the United States are Minnesotans, three girls and three boys. Another girl, from New Jersey, practices with the G Team.
The snowboarders participate in a circuit of races around the country. The top six finishers in each gender group determine who advances to the world-level competition.
Seven of the nation's top junior Alpine snowboard times were taken from the G Team, which practices at Buck Hill in Burnsville and Hyland Ski and Snowboard Area in Bloomington.
"I don't think it's ever been done," said Jessica Zalusky, G Team executive director. "It's pretty unheard of to have seven coming from one state, one area."
The three girls from Minnesota who are participating in the world championships are sophomores: Rose Bransford and Iris Pflum from Benilde-St. Margaret's and Lily Janousek from Minnetonka. The trio is known as "flower power" for their floral first names and top finishes on the hill. The other girl, Olivia Bellek from New Jersey, flies to Minnesota when she can to practice with the G Team.
The two other boys on the team, Jacob McCarthy from Edina High School and William Taylor from Blake, are seniors. Both made the team last season.
DePaepe is the only junior boy from the G Team who is participating in his first world junior championship.
"They just said it's a lot of fun, and it's kind of eye-opening being able to watch all these other riders," DePaepe said last week. "They just said it was a really fun experience, being able to go out there and ride for your country."
Though Minnesota is not known for large mountain ranges or world-class ski resorts, Zalusky said the coaching of the G Team and having small hills and tow ropes for quick runs, is a big advantage over Alpine snowboarders from other states.
"We've got a phenomenal coaching team, and a group of incredibly talented riders," Zalusky said. "Also, with having smaller hills, we're able to get in so many more runs in compared to our counterparts in Colorado and California and Utah."
Jack Warrick is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.