A Stones Throw 2-16-12

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Each week Shadow and I try to find a topic that will interest many, if not most, of our readers. Sometimes finding that topic is easy; other times it is hard. This week it was easy – it jumped out at me.

Actually, Nick Goepper and Chris Laker jumped out at me. Okay – they didn’t really jump out at me – they were in Snow Basin, Utah – I was in Patriot, Indiana. They were both skiing. I wasn’t.

To call what they do skiing might be a little simplistic. Nick has been known to ski “an unnatural cork 900 tail grab, switch double rodeo 900 Japan and a double cork 1080 mute.”

Got that?

I didn’t, so I decided to call one of the top training grounds for skiers who do a “switch double rodeo 900 Japan.” Naturally I had to find someone associated with a ski resort in Vermont, or Colorado, or maybe Utah.

Not.

All I had to do was call Ellen Perfect of Perfect North Slopes just outside of Lawrenceburg. (I have to admit for the first 10 years we lived here I thought the name Perfect North Slopes was an attempt to make a Southern Indiana ski area sound impressive. A few years ago I discovered it was named Perfect because it was owned by Chip and Ellen Perfect. Thus, a Perfect name for Perfect North Slopes.)

So I called Ellen Perfect.

Why?

Not because Perfect North Slopes is a favorite winter playground for families throughout the Tri-State. Not because Perfect North has “bunny” slopes, beginner’s slopes, advanced slopes, and slopes for snow tubing and snowboarding. Not even because they have two “terrain” parks where adventurous skiers and snowboarders can try to imitate the Shaun White’s of the extreme skiing world with jumps, spins, grabs, grinds, and flips.

I called Ellen because Nick Goepper and Chris Laker are two of the top freestyle Slopestyle skiers in the world. And both of them got their ski legs at Perfect North Slopes.

That’s right. Nick Goepper is a 17 year-old freestyle ski star from Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Chris Laker, 18, is from Cincinnati.

Both got their start at Perfect North – Nick when he was five – Chris when he was three. For each of them, their first experience was as part of a family outing. They were almost too young to find skis to fit them.

They certainly weren’t skiers.

Not until each “got air.” (Whatever that is.)

After they “got air,” nothing could hold them back. Each hit the slopes every available spare minute. They practiced at the terrain park hour after hour – day after day. As their skills developed, they discovered the need for advanced training.

Thus, Nick moved west where he could train at world class terrain parks with world-class athletes. He worked on his school lessons in between his ski workouts. He started developing new and more complex jumps and spins. He practiced his jumps, twists, and flips on a trampoline, then from a diving board, and finally from a water ski ramp.

Meanwhile Chris continued to go to Oak Hills School in Cincinnati where he graduated in 2011. However, for five years he was allowed to spend extended periods of time away from school during ski season so he could train and compete in Utah and Colorado. When he was at home he would work on the trampoline in his back yard, practice inline skating, and compete with the diving team for Oak Hill High School.

And, Chris would return to Perfect North Slopes – which he describes as: “where man-made snow is plentiful. All 400 vertical feet – it is the place to be.” For Chris, Perfect North was the place to be – not for recreation, but to continue to hone his freestyle skills.

While Nick and Chris took different routes, each had one goal in mind – to become the best professional freestyle skier in the world. And, they are off to a good start.

In 2010, after considerable success in regional and national competitions as amateurs, both Nick and Chris found themselves on the professional “Dew Tour” circuit. The Dew Tour features the top freestyle skiers in the world. (Competitors from last week’s Toyota Championship came from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Norway, France, Japan, and Finland.)

It would be easy to be intimidated.

Not Nick or Chris. They were raised on the slopes of Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

Both started their first professional season at the NZ Freeski Open in Wanaka, New Zealand. Young Chris Laker finished in fourth place. Even younger Nick Goepper finished in eighth place.

Against the best-of-the-best.

The balance of 2010 was good for both skiers. By the end of the year, after three wins and a seventh place finish, Chris had cracked the top 20 in the Dew Tour Slopestyle. At the same time, Nick moved from nowhere to number 32 overall.

In 2011, Nick, still the youngest skier on the Dew Tour, became the best – almost. Consistently among the top three finishers, Nick moved from being ranked 32nd overall to second in the 2011 year-end Dew Tour Slopestyle ranking. He capped his amazing year with a silver medal in the Winter X Games and a near-perfect victory last Sunday at the Toyota Championships in Snow Basin, Utah.

And Chris? All he did during the 2011 freestyle season, which included a fourth place finish in last Sunday’s championships, was to move from number 19 in the world to number six.

That means that two of the top six Slopestyle skiers in the world found their “air” at, and graduated from, Perfect North Slopes in Lawrenceburg.

Today, on a busy Saturday you can find as many as 200 boys and girls – men and women – working the “air” on the rails and the ramps of one of the two Perfect North Terrain Parks. Some are just having fun. Some are challenging themselves. Others are looking for that “air” that will drive them to be the next Nick Goepper or Chris Laker.

After all – Nick and Chris are now the best-of-the-best.

Oh, I never did find out what “an unnatural cork 900 tail grab, switch double rodeo 900 Japan and a double cork 1080 mute” is. Do you know?

– Mike Cooney