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March 6, 2006

Colfax snowboarders have Olympic dreams

From: Auburn Journal, CA - Mar 6, 2006

By: Carol Feineman, Gold Country News Service

COLFAX - With all the recent attention on Olympic snowboarders, it's easy to overlook a local snowboarding team.

And that's ironic because Colfax residents could be watching the next Shaun White in The Riders Union snowboarding team, formed in 2004. The Colfax team includes 12 males and two females, between the ages of 12 and 25.

Trying out for the next Winter Olympics in 2010 in Vancouver is always a possibility, according to 15-year snowboarder Jason Howes, who owns The Riders Union, a board shop in Colfax.

"It's hard to say, only 1/10th of a percent will make it to the Olympics. But we have a young team, highly motivated, who want to become professional snowboarders. Our top half-pipe rider, James Brumsfield, definitely has the potential," Howes said. "While team members don't talk about it because being in the Olympics is so far up there, the ultimate, they'd all like to be like Olympic gold and silver medallists Shaun White or Danny Kass. They are role models."

Snowboarding since he was 14, Truckee-based Brumsfield has won several competitions as a Riders Union member, including the Planet Earth Outerwear Shop's half-pipe competition in February.

"I don't put too much thought into the Olympics. If that's how it all worked out and I ended up in that position, I'd go in a second," Brumsfield said. "Snowboarding is my favorite thing to do in the world, my individual way to express myself."

Brumsfield, 22 and a Northstar snowboard coach, squeezes being on the Colfax team into his busy work and snowboarding schedule because the sponsoring shop "is run by actual snowboarders."

"I really like what they have at the shop. It's not a corporate company but a shop owned by the people and for the people," Brumsfield said.

And The Riders Union owner's philosophy is to have a snowboarding team whose first priority is to have fun and whose second priority to win competitions.

For those reasons, The Riders Union team is in the snow four times weekly during the season. Half that time is spent practicing at Borreal and the other half is spent competing around the Tahoe area.

The weekly practices pay off.

"Two weeks ago, we won first place in Planet Earth Outerwear half-pipe competition and second place in the rail jam competition," Howes said. "And we won first place for overall shop."

Twenty shop teams from Northern California were invited to the Planet Earth event.

And this April, The Riders Union team will defend its first-place title earned in Northstar's Helly Hansen Competition 2005. Teams of four snowboarders compete via runs and tricks on a slope style course for 90 minutes.

"Our team is very hard to get on. We have a really good team. We turn people down all the time," Howes said.

Joe Dondelinger, a Colfax snowboard video producer and 10-year snowboarder, agrees with Howes.

"I think The Riders Union team is really talented. For one, they win all their shop battle contests. That says a lot about their talent," Dondelinger said. "I've been filming these riders from before they joined the team. They don't have an attitude. They have great personalities and are level-headed people. I have a set group of local Tahoe snowboarders, which includes the Riders Union team, snowboarders I think are the best."

Blair Esson, 12 and a sixth grader at Placer Elementary School in Loomis, shows that age doesn't matter on the team.

"Blair is probably the most enthusiastic kid we have on the team. He truly loves to snowboard," Howes said. "The other people feed off it. He's a real inspiration, not because he's just a great snowboarder for being 12 years old but because he's so stoked about snowboarding it rubs off on the rest of us."

Esson is also hearing impaired and hears through a Cochlear Implant. He has snowboarded for the past seven years so he can hang out with his older brother and sisters when they're on the slopes.

The 12-year-old gave up being on the Loomis Wrestling Team, a varsity squad, because of time constraints.

"It was being at the gym or the mountains," he said.

The mountains won.

"Snowboarding is my favorite thing to do. I go fast; it feels like I'm on a dirt bike going really fast. I jump," Esson said.

He's naturally competitive, says mom, Leslie Esson, who also calls her son "fearless." She attributes his previous gymnastics classes and wrestling training with helping him maintain board balance.

Ask Esson if he's scared in races and a big grin takes over.

"No, I'm not scared. I'm so happy. I'm so excited to compete," he said.

Two weekends ago, he took second place at Boreal in a rail-jam event. He also received fifth place in a Boardercross event sponsored by the United States of America Snowboard Association event last month at Borreal.

If he had one wish, it would be to live in Truckee so Esson could snowboard every day.

As for trying out for the Olympic team?

Esson enjoyed watching the Turin competitions on TV during the past few weeks but he's setting his goals on more immediate goals, such as mastering more complex spinning tricks or attending snow camp this summer.

Yet the Olympics has peaked his interest.

"I'd like to be like Shaun White. He's awesome and rich," Esson said.

Copyright © 2006 Gold Country Media. All rights reserved.