By Tom Eastman
CONWAY — Brown, green and gold.
Those are the colors for a young, high-flying Conway skier's hopes to attain a berth in slopestyle competition in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, this February.
John Brown, 19, is a 2013 Kennett High graduate who can sail through the air with ease while also twin-tipping his way over rails. Green represents Brown's hope of competing as a member of the Emerald Isle's Irish Olympic Ski Team. Gold is not only what leprechauns hide in the Emerald Isle, but it's also about what Olympic dreams are made.
Already one of the most popular events at the Winter X Games, slopestyle will become an Olympic event, in both skiing and snowboarding forms, at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Brown hopes to be there, helping to grow the sport. Due to his family ties to Ireland, he has dual citizenship in both Ireland and America, and is trying to qualify for the Olympics by competing this winter on the World Cup slopestyle circuit.
“My goal is to compete in the World Cup and to qualify to compete for Ireland in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi,” said Brown in an interview with The Conway Daily Sun Dec. 30. He stopped in at the paper after a day of taking some slopestyle runs at Cranmore, where he first learned the sport 12 years ago.
A resident of Mount Washington Valley for 13 years, he was a ski racer early on in the Cranmore program, and also skied with the Eastern Slope Ski Club's Junior Program out of John Fuller Elementary School in North Conway, but was drawn to the sport of slopestyle because he likes the creative freedom the sport celebrates as skiers and snowboarders make their way down a course with jumps and rails.
He eventually moved on to the Waterville Valley Black and Blue Trail Smashers, with whom he has trained and worked with coach Dan Shuffleton of the Waterville Academy.
He loves to get big air, and to do tricks.
“I like just being able to have your own creativity and style: You can be your own person and can show that through your skiing, and don’t have to do something the way everyone else should be doing it,” said Brown, who weighs in at 137 pounds and stands 5-feet, 9-inches. “You can mix it up and have your own way to do it. It's a lot easier now branching out with my own style, now that I've been taught the basics over and over so i have the basic tricks and having a team and having a coach for so long. Now I can build my own style.”
He lived in Ireland for nearly two years in Cork as a youngster. Having obtained his dual citizenship this past summer, he has been in touch with the Olympic Council of Ireland about his Olympic goals of skiing for Ireland.
“I am the only freestyle skier on the Irish team. You need a FIS license to compete in World Cup events, and they accepted my transfer to represent them,” said Brown. “Now I just need to get a top 30 and 50 FIS points to qualify for the Olympics. If I got a top 30 it would get me around 40 or 50 FIS points.”
He leaves Jan 5 to head to Breckenridge, Colo., for the next qualifier.
“It was supposed to be in Heavenly, in Lake Tahoe,” said Brown, “but they didn’t have enough snow, so the event has been moved back to Breckenridge, where they held the Detour in December. The Grand Prix World Cup is set for Jan. 8 through 12.”
At the Detour qualifier at Copper Mountain in Colorado in December, he put together a run that consisted of a series of three jumps: a forward double Cork 1260, followed by a switch double cork 900, and finishing off with a unnatural double cork 1080.
(“Unnatural” means spinning the opposite way that you can, explained Brown, who added that judges like to see competitors spinning tricks both ways.)
He says he skied well but fell on his first run due to speed issues.
On his second run he says, “I was sort of dragging my hand and fell over on my side. That docked all my points, so that run was thrown out as far as placement goes.”
“I felt pretty good with my skiing,” he continued, “as I put a lot of my new tricks together in the run and now I feel that for the next competition I will be ready to put it all together. Having already that experience in my first World Cup, I feel confident I can land a run and hopefully get a qualifying result.”
The World Cup heads to Gstaad, Switz., Jan. 18.
“That is the last Olympic qualifier. The points shut down on the 18th, and then countries pick their teams from those who qualified,” said Brown.
He has competed for the past few years on the Revolution Tour, a circuit for higher skilled amateurs. He has had multiple podium finishes in the Eastern Freeride Tour, and placed third in the Northface Open Waterville Valley Big Air competition last February. He was awarded “Best Trick” at the Sun Valley Revolution Tour Finals in March.
He has been invited to compete the past four years in the Junior Olympics for slopestyle, based on his USSA points.
“Last year,” he said, “I qualified for first in two of three stops on the Revolution Tour, but I struggled at Sun Valley in March in the finals with a heel injury. I would be confident during the beginning of the day and be able to land a run but by the end of the day for the finals it would hurt more and more so I would be in pain by the time the finals. It was enough to throw me off and I was only able to land one run. Over the summer I trained on the air bag at Waterville Valley and trampolines, and also underwent physical therapy for my heel. I have also adapted my boots so it won’t be a problem in the future,” said Brown.
He said that skiers and snowboarders are now achieving tricks that would have been thought impossible five years ago, and interest in the sport is growing. Brown is part of that evolution, and hopes to keep competing not only for a chance at this February's Olympics, but in four years to come as well.
College will come some day, but for now, he is focusing on his dream.
His challenges are not just on the slopes — he also is hard-pressed to raise the money for his traveling and competition expenses.
He has used his mechanical aptitude to work with buddies on repairing automobiles, especially Subarus, but he needs to raise more.
He has launched a fund-raising campaign on the website, www.gofundme.com/Help-John-ski-to-Sochi.
His parents are supportive of his dreams, but are asking for community support.
“While it is very exciting to see John progress to this point, it is also daunting as to how we are going to make it all work from year to year,” wrote his mother, Josie, on the website. “John, himself has been very instrumental in making his mechanical and entrepreneurial talents earn him some side money to help support his passion and whatever money he earns goes right into his skiing. He continues to put one foot in front of the other believing where there is a will there will be a way. He took this year off to full time train both in the summer and winter to give it his all. We continue to keep supporting him as he goes forward and we are all very grateful for the support shown for John as he continues on his path.”
Brown is idealistic, and realistic, about what it would mean to be an Olympian.
“I have thought about it a few times, but it is a bit too surreal to think about what it would be like to be walking into that stadium with all the other athletes,” he told The Sun. “I think I will just play it as it goes, and keep focusing on my runs.”
As for being an American Irishman, or an Irish American, he relishes the opportunity to try and win a berth, skiing for Ireland and representing his hometown here in New Hampshire as well.
“Living here in the ’States, it is especially very meaningful for me to find a way to integrate the pride of my heritage and family, my appreciation for my past and present and both nations with my love for skiing,” said Brown, who said he would send back updates to The Conway Daily Sun so readers can follow his progress.
For more, visit www.gofundme.com/Help-John-ski-to-Sochi.