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From speeding down the track, to sending it on the world stage

Columbia Valley local Jack Kolesch takes home third place at the Freeride Junior World Championships
The starting gate in Kappl, Austria at the Freeride Junior World Championships, Jan. 24, 2022. Photo courtesy of Kappl

In the world of ski competitions, it can feel like freeriding and alpine racing couldn’t be more different. But for athletes like Jack Kolesch — an ex-alpine racer who just this Monday just took home third place at the Freeride Junior World Championships in Kappl, Austria— the lines between the disciplines begin to blur.

Growing up in Western Canada, learning to ski where world class racing meets premier backcountry style terrain, Kolesch was exposed to the best of both kinds of skiing. Born in Field B.C., Kolesch strapped on skis for the first time at 18 months and was racing by the time he was six.

“We had an awesome alpine coach, and we would race in the morning, but in the afternoon we got to freeride,” he said in an interview with the Columbia Valley Pioneer. “And I always looked forward to that afternoon freeride as much as, if not more than, the morning training sessions.”

At 14 Kolesch made the decision to focus on freeriding full time. Around the same time, he moved to the Columbia Valley.

In freeride competitions, competitors begin and finish in the same areas, but the path they take down the mountain is up to them. Choosing their own line down steep mountain faces with natural snow and conditions, competitors ski as hard and as fast as possible, with scores awarded for the difficulty of their run, fluidity, technique and style. Jumps and cliff-dropping are common occurrences, as are crashes.

This may have been Kolesch’s first foray into international freeride competitions, but he has made a name for himself on the North American freeride circuit. Named the second ranked junior freeskier in Canada in 2019-20, Kolesch was invited to the freeride Junior World Championships in 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic organizers allowed skiers to defer their invitations until the next season. Now 17, Kolesch hopped on a plane — taking a break from his Grade 12 year to represent Canada on an international stage.

Jack Kolesch, mid-air on his run. Photo courtesy of @freeridejuniortour_fjt

Dropping in from the top, Kolesch flew into a jump, before dropping into another cliff with a spread-eagle mid-air. Traversing across avalanche debris, he took off into the air again, managing a grab and landing on the tails of his skis. Regaining his balance, Kolesch dropped down a ramp and lined up for a 10m cliff drop and catching some massive air. Stomping the landing, Kolesch slid into the finish corral and into third place on the podium.

With the opportunity to ski as a junior again next winter, or try entering adult-level competitions, Kolesch hasn’t decided quite what to do yet. But he says that he’d like to pursue a professional freeride career, “at least for a few years, before I go to [post-secondary] school.”

In the meantime you’ll catch Kolesch out skiing at Lake Louise with the Ullr Big Mountain team, and ripping it up at his local resort, Panorama.

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