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Skiing on air: Only 12, Lebanon  freestyle champ already making waves

  • Zach Gaudet, of Lebanon, started skiing at age 3. Now 12, he won the overall East Coast Junior Freestyle Championship after taking first in slope style, fourth in aerials and twenty first in moguls at Sunday River in Maine on March 17. Gaudet was photographed at Whaleback Mountain in Enfield, N.H., where he is a member of the Core Team, Tuesday, March 27, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Zach Gaudet, of Lebanon, won the overall East Coast Junior Freestyle Championship at Sunday River in Maine on March 17. Gaudet demonstrated some of his slopestyle tricks during a portrait session at Whaleback Mountain in Enfield, N.H., Tuesday, March 27, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • East Coast Junior Freestyle Champion Zach Gaudet, 12, of Lebanon, stands for a portrait with his coach, Evan Dybvig, at Whaleback Mountain in Enfield, N.H., Wednesday, March 27, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Zach Gaudet, 12, of Lebanon, is a member of the competitive youth skiing Core Team at Whaleback Mountain in Enfield, N.H., where he posed for portraits Tuesday, March 27, 2019 following his March 17 win of the East Coast Junior Freestyle Championships. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, March 28, 2019

LEBANON — It’s safe to say Zach Gaudet has found his calling in freestyle skiing, a creative outlet that allows him to express himself. Dan Gaudet, Zach’s father, and the rest of Zach’s family are just along for the ride.

Gaudet, 12, of Lebanon, has been skiing freestyle since he was little, a passion that started out as a few family ski trips to Lebanon’s Storrs Hill and quickly turned into a love of big jumps and bountiful air. He currently competes with the Waterville Valley Black and Blue Trail Smashers, a development program for up-and-coming freestyle skiers in Waterville Valley, N.H.

During the week, he practices with the Core Team at Whaleback Mountain under the watchful eye of two-time Olympic mogul skier and national champion Evan Dybvig, who spent eight years on the U.S. Ski Team.

Big air and complicated tricks can have consequences, as has Gaudet learned the hard way. He broke his right fibula landing the wrong way at the end of a jump last winter, shutting himself down for the season to recover.

By fall, Gaudet was back on his skis. Earlier this month, he earned an overall victory at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s East Coast Junior Championships at Maine’s Sunday River resort. He won slopestyle, was 19th in moguls and finished fourth in big air.

For Gaudet, that’s only the beginning.

“I just like being in the air,” Gaudet said on Wednesday. “Skiing takes my mind off of everything. … You just go so big. It feels like you’re flying, you’re just floating, you’re able to do tricks and stuff which is even cooler.”

Gaudet, a seventh-grader at Lebanon Middle School, is as dedicated as you can get to a particular sport. Having to choose between skiing and hockey when he was 8 years old, Gaudet opted for the former. Being airborne, he said, is what tipped the scales in freestyle’s favor.

Dan Gaudet said he knew nothing of the sport until his son expressed an interest. Since then, he’s gotten himself involved by taking his son to practices, teaming up with other parents for road trips and joining competition officiating crews to help alleviate some of the financial burden.

“We just introduced them to skiing; as a family, we had so much fun,” Dan Gaudet said. “I think Evan Dybvig had a big part. Zach looked up to him, tried to emulate him.”

Dybvig, who has coached Whaleback’s Core Freestyle team since the program started 12 years ago, said he’s been impressed with Gaudet’s progress — in particular his dedication to the sport year-round.

“He has worked very hard in the offseason to develop more difficult tricks,” Dybvig said over the phone on Wednesday.

Dybvig added that the freestyle program hosts about 15-20 kids each winter.

“I try to help him take those and be confident in them, help him be confident that he’s going to be landing that trick safely,” Dybvig said. “He knew he wanted to compete. Not all of our kids compete in freestyle. At a relatively young age, he got into USSA competition. He’s got some involved, supportive parents that help him get to events. As he’s progressed, he’s clearly got a talent and a passion for it.”

Gaudet’s broken leg happened in the weeks leading up to last year’s East Coast Junior Championship and was his first major injury in the sport. He slowly got back into training in the offseason — using a variety of water ramps and jumps into air bags that help get athletes comfortable in the air — and he admitted he was timid about getting back on skis after the injury. That fear passed quickly.

“He’s getting to that level now where it’s pretty scary sometimes,” Dan Gaudet said. “But I feel he’s safe because of the coaching he has and the progression he goes through. The safe progression in the sport helps parents ease their minds a little bit.

“Evan and I are both talking to him about confidence levels when you’re in the air, knowing the hard work you did will show up in the competition.”

For Dybvig, watching Gaudet catch a passion for freestyle brings back memories from his own past.

“He’s shown promise; he’s well on his way,” he said. “He’s gotten some great results and has shown he has the work ethic. But let’s not fool ourselves: It’s pretty fun work. Even in the offseason — trampolines, water ramps — you’ve got to put in the numbers.”

Gaudet said his dream is to go pro one day. His next steps are the most difficult — getting national attention and attending a high school ski academy that provides him with the right opportunities, for instance. It doesn’t mean, however, that he’s about to stop trying.

After all, he’s caught a taste of mid-air freedom. Once you have it, he said, it’s difficult to let it go.

“You have to work super-hard (to go pro),” Gaudet said. “Do a lot of competitions and some crazy tricks.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.