Sports Person of the Week
Gibson Makes a Big Jump on the Slopes
Essex resident Cal Gibson is currently ranked second in the nation in the Snowboard Youth Division by the USA Snowboarding and Freeski Association. Cal is a freshman at Xavier High School who attends Mount Snow Academy in Vermont for several months in the winter to hone his craft. (Photo courtesy of Cal Gibson )
Cal Gibson has put together a fantastic season with the Mount Snow Academy (MSA) this year. In the national rankings of the USA Snowboard and Freeski Association, Cal holds second place in the Snowboard Youth 14-15 Division for the slopestyle discipline.
Cal is an Essex resident and a freshman at Xavier High School, but for several months during the winter, he lives at MSA in West Dover, Vermont. There, Cal hones his snowboarding skills while completing his Xavier curriculum. Cal has also competed around the country, including in The Futures Tour, which is a pipeline for Olympic competition.
Cal sits in second place with 3,390 points thanks to all of his top-3 slopestyle finishes. When Cal learned that he was second in the nation, he felt a mixture of emotions. Earning that distinction seemed surreal to Cal, but he was also proud that his effort yielded positive results.
“Honestly, I was pretty surprised seeing all the other competitors in Vermont in my series,” says Cal. “At the same time, I could believe it, because I worked really hard and did a ton of competitions.”
Slopestyle has been in the Winter Olympics since 2014, and is included in the discipline of freestyle skiing. The competition involves a skier or snowboarder executing a mix of jump and rail tricks on a downhill course with obstacles. The athletes are awarded points based on the difficulty and originality of their maneuvers, along with how well they execute each trick.
Cal is well-suited for slopestyle, because he has a nice array of tricks in his bag. Slopestyle judges make their determinations on scoring for a specific run based on several criteria, such as variety of tricks, height of a jump (amplitude), degree of difficulty, originality, flow of the routine, and then an overall score rating based on the complete package presented by the competitor. Cal can mix up his routine to hit all of the judges’ criteria.
“I would have to say I have a wide variety of tricks on rails. I think that my rail game is a little better than my jump game,” Cal says. “But I have a few tricks on jumps that really go above and beyond. I have a lot of rail tricks, but the tricks that I do have on jumps are really solid.”
With a plethora of tricks at his disposal, Cal is able to strategize his best mode of attack on a given course.
“Usually, never do the same trick in one run. You want to keep a wide variety and switch it up. They don’t want to see the same thing twice,” says Cal. “If there are three jumps in a row, you want to start with a smaller trick and then build up. The last jump should be your biggest trick.”
When Cal’s saving his best for last, he usually busts out a backside corkscrew 720, commonly referred to as a back cork seven. The trick entails Cal entering a jump leading with his left foot and coming off of the ramp rotating clockwise, leading with his back side until he spins twice. While in mid-air, Cal will situate his body so that he pitches down, bringing the board above his shoulders at the same time that he’s spinning. In other words, he rotates 720 degrees while also moving the axis of that rotation diagonally with his head closer to the ground than his board. It’s like a near inverted triple axel.
“In terms of jumps, pretty much my back cork seven is my biggest trick that I can consistently land,” Cal says. “That’s always my go-to biggest trick. I have bigger tricks, but that’s the one that is most consistent and that I can count on in a competition.”
MSA snowboard and alpine skiing Head Coach David McCarthy isn’t surprised that Cal is in the top tier of his division in slopestyle. McCarthy knows that Cal has put in the necessary effort to succeed, and he’s pleased to see it paying dividends on the slopes.
“Over the last two years that I’ve worked with Cal, he’s developed into a much stronger rider. It helps being on snow every day. He’s much more consistent, much stronger, and more confident in his snowboarding,” McCarthy says. “Even in just the last few months, it’s starting to click with him. He’s put in the work, and now, he’s ranked second nationally. He’s a real well-rounded rider in his rail tricks and jump tricks. He’s standing out.”
It’s been a long ride for Cal, who started snowboarding at age five when he saw his older brother Max try it. After he fell in love with the sport, Cal’s mother Andrea and father Steve figured out a way for him to attend MSA to hone his skills.
“I started out skiing very young. The reason I switched was that my brother switched over, and I thought it looked cooler than skiing,” says Cal. “Once I got into it, I didn’t want to stop. While my family was up at Mount Snow, I saw the MSA team. We did some research, and my mom and dad made it happen for me. Definitely props to my mom and dad.”
Still, even with all that experience, Cal will get nervous before a big run. Snowboarding can really get the adrenaline pumping, so Cal has to find a way to calm himself down to stay focused.
“Personally, sometimes I can’t feel my legs before a competition. I have a playlist of aggressive music that I listen to before I go. It’s not music that I would normally listen to, but it gets me out of that nervous feeling,” Cal says. “The goal for me is to be more excited than nervous. Usually, I’m terrified at the top, but once I hit that first jump or rail, I forget all about it.”
Beyond the competition, Cal has grown a great deal in the time that he’s spent at MSA. Living away from home can be scary for a freshman, but Cal believes his enrollment at the academy has been beneficial, especially when he has the support of McCarthy and fellow coach Tommy Burke.
“We live in a great community here. I haven’t really been homesick, because I’m so happy with what I’m doing here. I’m so busy, I don’t have much time to think about stuff like that. There’s always something that you have to do in the next 10 minutes,” says Cal. “My coaches never stop pushing me to be better, even when I’m frustrated. I also look up to the older kids on the team. Seeing them start to get a lot better makes me to want to do it, too.”
Cal would love to keep making his way up the ranks and potentially compete professionally one day. For right now, though, Cal is focused on the near future and plans to let whatever happens play out.
“It’s difficult to say where I can get to snowboarding. Nobody has really seen how far the sport can go yet. The game has become insanely difficult because of how far some of these younger kids around the world are getting,” Cal says. “I love snowboarding, and I will continue this through high school, but I won’t set my plan on snowboarding.”