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Durango course turns heads

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

George McQuinn and the Purgatory Freestyle Team competed with a half-dozen other teams in a moguls competition Saturday at Chapman Hill. The competition will continue from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today.

By Brandon Mathis
Herald Staff Writer

Telluride. Vail. Winter Park. Summit County ... Chapman Hill?

For the third year, Durango Parks & Recreation’s Chapman Hill is hosting the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s Moguls and Dual Moguls competition this weekend, and the verdict is in: The inner-city ski hill stands up to some of the roughest terrain in the state.

“The top of this pitch is 35 degrees,” Kirk Rawles, program director for the Purgatory freestyle team, said during Saturday’s competition. “It’s one of the steepest competition runs that these kids will ski all year.”

The event, sponsored by Durango Orthopedics and Spine Colorado, is a qualifier for the Junior National Championships in Park City, Utah, in late February.

Three hundred thirty feet above Chapman’s base, many skiers washed out on the harsh slope of bumps with two jumps for aerials, creating an icy spray cloud backlit by the winter sun.

Rawles, a former U.S. Ski Team member and brother of U.S. Freestyle Moguls Team coach Scott Rawles, said the 22 male and 12 female competitors, ages 7 to 19, are among the best skiers in the country, and the tough venue only makes them better.

“Some of these kids have ideas of trying to make the U.S. Ski Team, and this is where it starts,” he said.

While many of the competitors are young, they still are serious athletes, said Lorie Rawles, Kirk Rawles’ wife.

“You don’t have to set an alarm for them when it’s a ski day,” she said. “It shows them what passion is all about.”

Fifteen-year-old Purgatory Freestyle Team member Sadie Smith said it takes focus.

“We’re training five days a week,” she said. “It’s really competitive.”

Team Summit member Jason Tilley, 14, of Colorado Springs, called the course “interesting,” saying it was odd to have cars driving by as he dropped into his run right off the Fort Lewis College campus. His parents, Diana and Jay, said they watch with fingers crossed behind their backs and smiles on their faces but can see their son grow as a person and athlete.

Telluride team coach Caleb Martin, an eight-year U.S. Ski Team veteran, agreed that the events build character.

“We travel as a team, but it’s an individual sport,” Martin said. “It’s you against the mountain.”

Jameson Hock, a 19-year-old student at the Art Institute of Chicago and U.S. Ski Team hopeful who winters in Vail just to compete on the Colorado circuit, said he enjoys the opportunities the competitions provide.

“You just have this moment when you are suspended in the air, and it feels like you’re floating,” he said.

He landed a graceful “iron cross back flip” on his first run Saturday.

“Being upside down in the air is a pretty incredible feeling,” he said.

bmathis@durangoherald.com

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