Group helps competitive snowboarders, skiers

February 24, 2018 GMT

The United States of America Snowboard and Freeskiing Association’s Southwest Freeride Series, an active program in New Mexico, largely flies under the radar of most skiers and snowboarders. But it has brought wide smiles to those who participate in its competitive skiing and snowboarding events and produced some significant athletes over the years.

This includes Marion Balsamo, 15, who lives in Peñasco. Balsamo, whose father was a ski instructor and competitive mogul skier, took the national championship last year in both slopestyle and the rail jam.

“It was super fun; I love rail jams,” Balsamo said recently at Sipapu, where she was skiing toward another top finish.

Though Balsamo competes in a more challenging age class this year, she continues to win events.

“I hope to land a college scholarship some day and make the X Games,” Balsamo said.

The freeskiing association has programs at more than 100 ski area nationwide and hosts some 500 events every year , with a membership of some 5,000 snowboarders and skiers. The Southwest Freeride Series was launched in 2001 and hosted the national championship at Angel Fire in 2004. Participants accrue points over the course of the season, with the top finishers going to the national championships, held now every April at Copper Mountain, Colo.

Over the years, the organization boasts about alumni that include Shaun White, Kelly Clark, Jamie Anderson (who just snagged her second Olympic gold in South Korea) and youngster Red Gerard. It began in 1988 as a snowboard-focused group, but started offering events to skiers in 2011.

The Southwest Freeride Series hosts rail jams, slopestyle, bordercross, skiercross, halfpipe events at Purgatory, and slalom and giant slalom races for snowboarders. It already held events this season with seven more planned — including the Red River Rampage slopestyle competition on Saturday and a slalom at Red River on Sunday. Athletes hail from New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and Southern Colorado.

The local directors are Tony and Tiffany Hinojosa of Los Alamos. Both finished second nationally in the Masters Slopestyle class in 2015, and assumed direction of the local series in 2016.

“It is the largest grass-roots organization nationwide for skiers and snowboarders,” Tony Hinojosa said recently at a Sipapu event. “We all battle on the regional level to try and qualify for the national championships, but I consider this our traveling family. We have a set of people who travel from mountain to mountain, and even though you are competing against them, there’s an amazing camaraderie that develops. Many people come just for the fun, to sample different ski areas and to improve their riding, but there are some who can make a career out of this.”

Española’s Marshall Jansen, 28, works at getting to the nationals. A snowboarder for the past 18 years, his dad worked at Pajarito, and as a kid, he skied for three years before turning to snowboarding. He is in his sixth season competing in the Snowboard and Freeskiing Association, and has won many local events. Jansen made it to the national finals last year.

“It’s not too tough here,” Jansen said, “as there are not a lot of competitors. But when you get to the nationals, you are up against highly experienced riders. I don’t win there, but it’s a really great experience regardless.”

He might have a leg up on local competitors because he works full-time in winters at Sipapu helping run its fine Don Diego Terrain Park. Working alongside him is 21-year-old Sasha Seebeck of Dixon.

“This is my home hill and I grew up snowboarding here,” Seebeck said. “I just started competing last year. This is the first year I got on the podium, with a first and a second place finish. Marshall encouraged me to try it. It took off from there. My ambition is to make the nationals this season.”

Annual membership in Snowboard and Freeskiing Association, which is required for participation, begins at $80. For more details, visit www.southwestfreerideseries.com.


Patience finally paid off, with a set of more substantial storms rolling through this week, dramatically improving the regional ski and snowboarding scene.

Ski Santa Fe picked up seven inches, taking its base to 24 inches and its season-to-date totals to 46 inches. The entire lower mountain is now open, except for Desafio and Bozos Glade.

The ski area hosts a major blast Saturday, Brewski 2018, with seven local breweries serving up suds and the band Soul Foundation, led by the golden-throated character Jimmy Russell shaking on the deck. Beer from Boxing Bear, Broken Trail, Canteen, La Cumbre, Santa Fe Brewing, Second Street and 377 will be served indoors in the Toady Annex. An $18 entry includes a Brewski Silipint, one beer of your choice and three tasters.

The annual Customer Appreciation Day is March 2. Enjoy $25 off lift tickets, and 25 percent off rentals, instruction, Chipmunk Corner, the sports shop and food. Greg Butera and the Gunsels will be playing live on the Totemoff Deck from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. At 3 p.m., inside the Totemoff Annex, I will read brief passages from my new book.

Taos Ski Valley got 14 inches, boosting its base to 28 inches. On Friday, it opened Juarez off hike-to Highline Ridge, plus expert runs Blitz and Reforma. Pajarito received 10 inches, and is close to opening more advanced terrain. Sipapu gained 14 inches and has a 28-inch base. It hosts the Lloyd Bolander Memorial Cup Race on Saturday.

Angel Fire reports a 20-inch base with 36 percent of its terrain open. Red River picked up 15 inches for a 24-inch base, with 59 percent of its terrain skiable — including expert runs like Cat Skinner and Mine Shaft — and two terrain parks with 35 features. Sandia Peak received 4 inches and has a 23-inch base, but only beginner runs are open. Ski Apache has a 28-inch base with skiing off the top of the mountain.

Wolf Creek got hammered, with 42 inches of snow, which takes its based to 86 inches and for the season, 182 inches. Purgatory got 21 inches and has a base of 39-46 inches, with all runs open. Monarch picked up 19 inches and has a 60-inch base, with all runs and both terrain parks in action. Crested Butte saw 13 inches of new snow, pushing its base to 46 inches. Its High Lift has opened, accessing the Headwall and Teocalli Bowl.